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Nutrient surpluses

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Assessment made on  01 Jan 2001

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Agriculture Agriculture (Primary theme)

DPSIR: Pressure


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Geographic coverage:

Policy issue:  Has agriculture balanced its inputs and outputs of nutrients?


Key assessment

The run-off of plant nutrients into Europe's rivers and seas is one of modern agriculture's most persistent environmental problems. It triggers eutrophication - a massive growth spurt in water plants which robs the water of its oxygen and makes life for other organisms impossible. In marine waters the key nutrient is nitrogen, while fresh waters are more vulnerable to phosphorus.

A "nutrient surplus" occurs when not all the fertilizers and animal manure applied to the land are absorbed by the plants or removed during harvest. In the EU, the nutrient surplus runs to 7.1 million tonnes every year - and over 95% of it is at high enough levels to trigger eutrophication.

The total nitrogen surplus has not changed since 1990. Moreover, more than a quarter of this surplus comes from less than 10% of the regions examined by the EEA. Focusing efforts on these regions, which are mainly located in Denmark, Brittany, on the North Sea coast, and in the Rhine's water catchment area, could therefore produce significant results.


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