Overview of measures

It is clear that the invention of inorganic fertilizer and the increased use of organic fertilizers made the farmers able to double their yield 1. Yet, the global environmental impact of fertilizers has also been impressive. As only about half of the nitrogen from fertilizers is taken up by the plant, a huge amount leaches to ground and surface water. High nitrate concentrations in ground water lead to all kinds of health risks while the eutrophication (i.e. the excessive enrichment of water by nutrients which leads to extreme growth of certain species) of surface waters is also directly linked with fertilization 2.

To lower the burdens of fertilizer use, several programs have been set up. They can be divided up in two categories. The first category consists of incentives given for lowering the amount of fertilizer used, while the second category aims at increasing the nitrogen use efficiency by adapted management.

Less fertilizer

Some schemes demand farmers to lower their fertilizer use. Mostly, fertilizer is cheap and can be seen as a yield insurance. Therefore, financial incentives need to be given to farmers to lower their fertilizer use.

Adapted management

Another strategy to lower the impact of fertilizer is the increase of nitrogen use efficiency. Several practices can be executed, such as incorporation of the manure and the establishment of a nutrient management plan.

Comparison and details

Agri-environmental schemes    Greening     Less favoured area payment

CategoryExpected from farmerEnvironmental benefitsPriceExamples of regionsBarriersOpportunities
Less fertilizer used

Less fertilizer in flax/hemp/ horticultural crops/grassland

  • Reduce nutrient losses
  • Get better water quality

140-240 EUR/ha (Flanders)
  • Flanders
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • Bavaria
  • France
  • Austria

  • Fertilization assures high yield
  • Organic fertilizers enhance soil biological activity
  • Organic fertilizers enhance soil organic matter

  • Oversupply of N creates sensitivity to diseases
  • Lower colonization of mycorrhizae due to N fertilization
  • Inorganic fertilizers enhance degradation of soil
  • Lower cost of inputs
  • Salinization is possible due to fertilization
Adapted management

More accurate nitrogen fertilization on arable crops through use of certain spreading methods (injection, CULTAN method) or spreading during growing season
  • Reduce nutrient losses
  • Get better water quality
19-208 EUR/ha
  • Finland
  • Wales
  • Lower Saxony
  • Netherlands
  • Fertilization assures high yield
  • Integration of different measures is complex
  • Cost of injection/CULTAN/incorporation
  • Oversupply of N leads to sensitivity to diseases
  • Diminishing returns: the marginal gain of using additional fertilizer decreases
  • The cost of total inputs decreases
  • Oversupply of N leads to sensitivity to diseases
  • Diminishing returns: the marginal gain of using additional fertilizer decreases
  • The cost of total inputs decreases
  • Injection/incorporation/CULTAN assures lower emission of NH3 and less odour
Adapted management

Develop nutrient balance or nitrate reduction scheme
  • Reduce nutrient losses
  • Get better water quality
  • Finland
  • Greece
  • Extra work load
  • Adapted management
  • Insight in nitrogen streams on the farm
  • Higher efficiency of the nitrogen used

Case studies: 

Nitrogen reduction in cotton production in Larissa, Greece

One of the first agri-environmental schemes implemented in Greece was the nitrate reduction scheme. In the region of Larissa, in the Middle of Greece, it is widely implemented in the cotton cultivation: in 2011, as much as 50 000 farmers implemented the scheme on their farm. As payments are given to farmers to implement the nitrate reduction scheme, it could be expected that the stated objectives are reached. These objectives were protection of water resources, restoration of the quality of ground water and improvement of soil quality.

From the results of the tests done in the region, it is clear that farmers participating in the scheme score higher for all objectives mentioned in the scheme.

Source: Christopoulos, S., & Vlahos, G. (2011). OECD Workshop on the Evaluation of Agri-environmental Policies. Braunschweig, Germany. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/tad/susta inable-agriculture/48089445.pdf

ID kit
What: Apply organic production in Mani peninsula, Greece
Location:  Larissa, South of Greece
Duration: /
Area: 50 000 ha
Measures taken: Improve water quality
  • Biodiversity
  • Soil management
  • Less pollution