Sustainable Agricultural NP Turnover in the 27 European Countries

  • Péter CsathóEmail author
  • László Radimszky
Part of the Sustainable Agriculture Reviews book series (SARV, volume 9)


A deep contrast of NP balances, water nitrate contamination, soil P and rural development has appeared between Western and Eastern European countries since the implementation of the European nitrate directive in 1991 (91/676/EEC). In an economy ruled by free market rich countries become richer and poor countries become poorer from the point of view of water nitrate contamination and soil P overloads. There is a need for a paradigm shift in the European agro-environmental protection legislation. Instead of speaking about it, agro-environmental protection, social, and rural development principles should gain real priority. According to the principle of subsidiarity, the present problems can be solved only at the highest European-level, i.e., in the legislation and in the administration.

We reviewed the anomalies in the NP turnover of the European countries. The major points are: (1) instead of some agronomic factors such as soil NP status, added farmyard manure, and expected yield level, per capita gross domestic product and population density were the major factors affecting the magnitude of mineral and organic NP application. (2) Countries with the highest livestock densities do not take into account previous farmyard manure application and soil P status as mineral NP dose diminishing factors. This practice contradicts to the basic principles of sustainable crop nutrition. As a result, between 1991 and 2005, highest P surpluses, the most positive P balances were reached in the countries with the highest soil P level, further enhancing their agricultural P load to the environment. (3) Similarly, the European countries with the highest organic NP application, The Netherlands, and Belgium, were those who applied most mineral NP fertilisers reversely to the agronomic principles, and, resulting in most positive NP balances, and, as a consequence, the most severe environmental threat, the most severe agronomic NP load to the environment. (4) The major cause of heavy agricultural NP loads to the environment was livestock density exceeding 100 livestock units 100 ha agricultural land−1. (5) A positive correlation was found in the European countries between cumulative N balances for the period of 1991–2005 and the degree of ground water nitrates contamination. The main added value of this paper is to compare NP balances values to groundwater nitrate contaminations as well as soil P status, and evaluate their correlation from both agronomic and environmental point of views. Former works evaluate these factors, although correlative to each other, separately (Steén I, A European fertilizer industry view on phosphorus retention and loss from agricultural soils. In: Tunney H, Carton OT, Brookes PC, Johnston AE (eds) Phosphorus loss from soil to water. CABI, Wallingford, pp 311–328, 1997; OECD, Environmental indicators for agriculture, vol 3. OECD, Paris, pp 117–139, 2001; OECD, OECD trends of environmental conditions related to agriculture. In: Environmental indicators for agriculture, vol 4. OECD, Paris, Chapter 3,, 2008).


Agricultural NP loads Polarization Livestock density Nitrates Directives Inefficiency New priorities in EU legislation 



European Union

EU15 countries

The Western European EU countries including Austria Finland and Sweden


Mineral fertiliser


Farmyard manure


Gross Domestic Product

NEU12 countries

The newly joined Central- and Eastern European countries including Bulgaria and Romania


Soil test phosphorus



Much of the work in this paper was due to the initiative of the COST Action 832 entitled “Quantifying the agricultural contribution to eutrophication” (1997–2003) and COST Action 869 entitled “Mitigation options for nutrient reduction in surface and groundwaters” (2006–2012). The authors wish also to thank Prof. E. Frossard, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, for initiating a throughout review on NP balances and soil P status of the CEE countries, Prof. A.E. Johnston, IACR, Rothamsted, UK, for his valuable advice on how to improve the manuscript, and Prof. E. Kamprath, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA, for encouraging and supporting the authors to publish the manuscript. Authors are grateful to the Editors and Reviewers for their valuable suggestions to improve the quality of this work.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry, Centre for Agricultural ResearchHungarian Academy of SciencesBudapestHungary

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