CAP reform’s eco-schemes: eco-logic or eco-nomic? Why not both?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

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Yara believes the eco-scheme to be in line with the European Commission’s ambition of moving to a “smarter, simpler, fairer and more sustainable” CAP. [YARA]

The proposal for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy triggered a lot of criticism from a wide range of stakeholders, especially around the environmental aspects. But Yara believes the eco-scheme to be in line with the Commission’s ambition of moving to a “smarter, simpler, fairer and more sustainable” CAP.

As a leading producer of mineral fertilizers, Yara provides solutions to balance the environmental and economic aspects of agriculture. As such, we welcome the eco-schemes and the introduction of nutrient management plans in the CAP’s reform proposal.

Protecting the interests of farmers

Fertilization (crop nutrition) is intimately connected with agricultural productivity and food production. Fertilizers are food for plants, replacing the nutrients that crops remove from the soil. The fertilizers we produce concentrate naturally occurring minerals such as phosphates and potash as well as ambient nitrogen available in air. Whilst these concentration processes are complex and require chemicals, the primary nutrients contained in our products are of a natural and ecological origin.

Our pure nutrient products are easy to apply and ensure equally high quality and yield, thus protecting the economic interests of farmers. Without the addition of fertilizers, crop yields and agricultural productivity would be significantly reduced.

Promoting the responsible use of fertilizers

Minimizing input whilst maximizing output is a winning strategy from both an economic and ecological perspective. Crop nutritional needs vary with time, weather and soil. Hence applying fertilizers at the right time, in the correct amount is critical to support the responsible and sustainable use of nutrients. Nutrient management plans are part of the best farming practices together with a wide array of Precision Farming tools.

For example, field trials and on-farm research with Yara N-Sensor demonstrated tangible benefits from variable nitrogen-rate application:

  • Lower fertilizer application, with up to 14% of N savings
  • Yield increase of 3-7%
  • Better crop quality with higher protein content in wheat
  • Reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 5-10%

With the savings on fertilizer application, less losses are emitted to the environment, balanced plant nutrition is promoted, crop quality improved and nutrient use efficiency increased. The benefits could be multiplied when using tools such as the N-Tester in combination with free smartphone apps and farm advisory services.

In the European Union, there is still a huge untapped potential of benefits related to the wider use of Precision Farming tools in addition to the right choice of fertilizers.

Untapped potential in Europe

Balanced plant nutrition also implies the choice of the right fertilizer especially in relation with public health issues such as ammonia emissions. The EU’s Air quality program and NEC-directive rightfully focusses on reducing ammonia emissions from agriculture. Whilst more than 70% of ammonia emissions originate from livestock farming, the effect of a wrong choice of mineral fertilizers is not negligible either.

Fertilizers containing urea (urea and UAN) are converted to ammonium in the soil subsequent to spreading. This conversion generates ammonia emissions, making urea and UAN especially prone to ammonia volatilization. Together they account for 72% of overall ammonia losses from fertilizers in Europe[i].

Within the EU-28, approximately 6 million tons of urea mineral fertilizers are annually applied in agriculture. On average during this process, 500 000 tons of ammonia is lost to the atmosphere with negative consequences for ecosystems and human health.

As academics estimate the overall cost of ammonia emissions from 14 € per kg ammonia[ii] to 85 € per kg ammonia[ii], the monetary impact on society’s health budget and economy multiply to staggering amounts, ranging from 7 billion to 43 billion € annually.

Addressing ammonia volatilisation in Europe

Reducing ammonia emissions from agriculture is a crucial issue in Europe. What practical measures could be put in place to support sustainable European farming?

Big environmental burden, simple solution

The United Nations, through its guidance on ammonia emissions in agriculture, states that “switching from urea to ammonium nitrate fertilizer is a rather easy way to reduce NH3 [ammonia] emissions, with an effectiveness of around 90%”.

The United Nations state that, even with product development such as urease inhibitors, the ammonia emission abatement effect of these added inhibitors is still inferior to the straightforward UN recommendation to substitute with nitrate-based products. Such inhibitors also mean adding another chemical to the agriculture, while nitrate is the pure mineral nutrient which the crops can uptake without any added chemical in the food value chain.

As a responsible operator, we cannot ignore this recommendation. We must engage and support its reduced use in agriculture by preferring the optimal form of nitrate-based fertilizers in our advisory services.

We do solicit for understanding and support an eco-scheme combining the following solutions :

  1. Use of Precision Farming technology in order to supply the optimal application rate of direct plant available nitrates, thus avoiding leaching losses and reducing GHG emissions ;
  2. Advisory services and local agronomists to support with choosing the best fertilizer given field circumstances ;
  3. Ensuring compliance beyond legislation with regards to Product Stewardship and handling.

Our proposed eco-scheme contains both ecological and economical added value for farmers and the society. Mainstream adoption of the above mentioned best farming practices will require policy support through each and every step of the journey with rewards for progressive improvements. Furthermore, when human health is involved, the EU cannot but go for the best solutions.

 

[i]European Environmental Agency -2016- Hutchings N et al

[ii]European Nitrogen Assessment-2011-M.A.Sutton et al

[iii]Harvard University-2013-Paulot et al

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