In the early 1970s, the National Agricultural Advisory Company for Soil and Fertilization Issues recommended an optimal fertilizer application of 70 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare annually for grassland, based on the state of the soil’s fertilization, both for sand as clay + peat soil.
In the context of the Fertilizer Law, the maximum allowable fertilization of grassland was subsequently increased to 170 kg N/ha/year. Under the European Exception Scheme, the Netherlands was granted an exceptional position and allowed to circulate up to 230-250 kg nitrogen/ha/year, two to three times more than is good for land, water and nature. This is compost dumping and not sustainable composting of grasslands.
The Dutch exceptional situation will end in 2026. Due to the high content of nitrates, the quality of groundwater and surface water in the Netherlands is very low. In practice, about a quarter of less manure can then be used on grasslands. Without further action, this will lead to new surpluses of manure. Although animal manure can be in manure-deficient areas, if much of it is structurally applied to the land, it should be considered waste.
Theme for fifty years
52 years ago, we, three* young chemists from the then Eindhoven University of Technology, started our graduate thesis on manure surplus in the Netherlands. Even at that time the topic was very topical. Various research institutes have published on manure surpluses and the resulting environmental pollution. Newspapers also paid attention to him regularly. We have focused on quantifying the surplus manure and the shortage in cultivated land, transporting the surplus manure to areas with a shortage of animal manure, and treating the manure.
After a year of research, we concluded that a lot was technically possible, but so expensive that there was only one real solution:A more focused government policy regarding the establishment of intensive animal farms and the possibility of reforming the factory-breeding industry in areas with surplus manure.Financial and economic analyzes have shown that even the best technical solutions must be supported on a permanent basis, in part in order to maintain a level playing field for participants.
Growing problems with surplus manure led in 1987 to the Fertilizer Act. This accelerated the dramatic growth of the number of animals on small and large farms, which had been going on for some time, especially in the pig and poultry sectors, and manure production on these farms continued to increase accordingly. The number of livestock stabilized, but these animals were kept on fewer farms, which caused increased problems with local manure.
Politics motivates him
Long-term structural measures were not available or implemented little. Despite all the scientific conclusions, (most) the agricultural sector has been in a stalemate for half a century. This was made possible and encouraged by politicians, Rabobank, suppliers (particularly the animal feed industry) and customers.
Both the excessively high nitrate content in groundwater and surface water and the high deposition of nitrogen (actually ammonia) in nature reserves are a direct result of manure excess and thus the increase of fauna in certain areas. Therefore, the gradual abolition of the exceptional status of the Netherlands for spreading manure would only be welcome. Even if it could have significant financial consequences if the (misguided) farmers were compensated for it. The fact that dairy farms are being compensated to reduce their dumping of manure is actually a reflection of the polluter pays rule.
* Our fellow student was Chris Trentelman, who has since passed away