Personal tools


Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Sound and independent information
on the environment

You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Agriculture: nitrogen balance / Agriculture: nitrogen balance (SEBI 019) - Assessment published May 2010

Agriculture: nitrogen balance (SEBI 019) - Assessment published May 2010

Indicator Assessment Created 17 Sep 2009 Published 21 May 2010 Last modified 18 Mar 2015, 03:04 PM
Topics: ,

Generic metadata


Biodiversity Biodiversity (Primary topic)

biodiversity | agriculture | nitrogen
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Efficiency indicator (Type C - Are we improving?)
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 019
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

Key policy question: Is the nitrogen surplus from agriculture being reduced?

Key messages

Agricultural nitrogen surpluses (the difference between all nutrient inputs and outputs on agricultural land) show a declining trend, thereby potentially reducing environmental pressures on soil, water and air. Many countries, however, still maintain a large surplus.

Nitrogen input on agricultural land in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries

Note: How to read the graph: between 1995 and 2004, total nitrogen input on agricultural land in Germany decreased from about 5 to about 4 million tonnes

Data source:

Based on OECD, 2008.

Downloads and more info

Nitrogen balance per hectare of agricultural land

Note: How to read the graph: in 20 years, nitrogen balance per ha was reduced from 240 to 173 kg/ha in Belgium.

Data source:

Based on OECD, 2008.

Downloads and more info

Key assessment

A nutrient balance describes the difference between all nutrient inputs and outputs on agricultural land. A positive balance or surplus reflects inputs that are in excess of crop and forage needs. It can result in diffuse pollution through the loss of nutrients to water bodies, decreasing water quality while promoting eutrophication. Surplus nitrogen can also be lost to air as ammonia and other greenhouse gases.

All European countries exhibit a nitrogen surplus. Overall however, these surpluses have declined since the mid-1980s, reducing the environmental pressures on soil, water and air. The adoption of nutrient management plans and environmental farm plans has had a key role in this reduction.

It is, however, important not only to consider rates of surplus decline but also their absolute values. Belgium and the Netherlands, for example, show significant decreases although nutrient surpluses in these two countries currently remain much higher than the average across all countries, indicating high productivity and pressure on biodiversity.
Conversely, some countries show an increase but still remain below the average.

In most countries, national nutrient balances typically mask considerable regional variation due to variation in the type and intensity of farming.


Although gross nitrogen balance can show areas where ground and surface waters may be at risk from nitrogen leaching, it should not be interpreted as data on actual losses to the environment. In order to assess the environmental impact of excess nitrogen, more information is needed on farm nitrogen management, soil type, and climate conditions, all of which play a role in the fate of nitrogen in the environment. 'Gross nitrogen balance' is also an agri-environmental indicator and part of the compulsory indicators of the Common Monitoring and Evaluation Framework (CMEF) for rural development. Work is ongoing on streamlining similar indicators used in different processes.


Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala


EEA Management Plan

2010 1.2.2 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year in October-December (Q4)


European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100