Indicator Assessment

AGRI_F03: Gross nutrient balance - outlook from EEA

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-49-en
  Also known as: Outlook 020
Published 08 Jun 2007 Last modified 11 May 2021
12 min read
This page was archived on 12 Nov 2013 with reason: Content not regularly updated

Nutrient surpluses are expected to be moderately reduced in 2020. Best practices for fertilizer handling could significantly reduce the environmental pressures which are associated with nutrient balances.

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Projections of changes in gross nutrient balance

Note: N/A

Data source:

European environment outlook, EEA Report No 4/2005

Baseline scenario

The following developments are expected for nutrient balance:

  •    Overall, nutrient surpluses are expected to be moderately reduced in 2020 (by 6%, 8% and 12% for N, P, K respectively). 
  •  There are striking differences between the EU-15 and the New-8 projections.
  • Nutrient surpluses in the New-8 are expected to increase by 63% for nitrogen (N), 84% for phosphate (P) and 27% for potassium (K) as a result of the expected sharp increase in the use of mineral fertilizers.
  • In the EU-15, surpluses are expected to decrease (by 12% for N, 25% for P and 16% for K) because of a stable use of fertilizers and an increase in export in harvested material.
  • The share of the New-8 in N, P, K surpluses in 2020 is expected to be 14%, 14% and 11% respectively (these are 8%, 6% and 7% in the base year, 2000).

The main reasons of the expectations are provided above and include dependence amount of fertilizers and market's conditions with nutrient balances.

Alternative scenarios:

  • The liberalization of animal product markets leads to a limited change in the environmental indicator. The N, P, K surpluses decrease by 4% to 5%, smaller than might be expected (Liberalization of animal product markets scenario)

In 2020, the N,P,K surpluses are expected to be reduced compared with the baseline scenario by 25%, 70%, and 57% respectively. (Best practice scenario for fertiliser handling)

Supporting information

Indicator definition

Definition: The indicator 'gross nutrient balance' estimates the potential surplus of nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphate (P) and potassium (K) on agricultural land. This is done by calculating the balance between a nutrient added to an agricultural system and the nutrient removed from the system per hectare of agricultural land. The indicator should accounts for all inputs to and outputs from the farm. The inputs consists of the amount of nutrient (N, P or K) applied via mineral fertilisers and animal manure as well as a nutrient fixation by legumes, deposition from the air, and some other minor sources. Nutrient output is contained in the harvested crops, or grass and crops eaten by livestock (escape of nutrients to the atmosphere, e.g. for nitrogen as N2O, is difficult to estimate and therefore is usually not taken into account).

This outlook indicator presents trends of the potential surpluses of nutrient (nitrogen, phosphate and potassium) by showing the expected change in nutrient balance from 2001 to 2020.

Model Used: CAPSIM

Ownership: European Environmental Agency (EEA)

Temporal coverage: 2001-2020

Geographical coverage: EU15: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, spain, Sweden, United Kingdom; EU-8: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia


expected change between 2001 and 2020 is presented in per cent.


Policy context and targets

Context description

EU policy context

The gross nitrogen balance is relevant to two EU Directives: the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EC) and the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). The Nitrates Directive (Council of the European Communities, 1991) has the general purpose of "reducing water pollution caused or induced by nitrates from agricultural sources and prevent further such pollution" (Art.1). A threshold nitrate concentration of 50 mg/l is set as the maximum permissible level, and the Directive limits applications of livestock manure to land to 170 kg N/ha/yr. The Water Framework Directive (Council of the European Communities, 2000) requires all inland and coastal waters to reach "good status" by 2015. Good ecological status is defined in terms of the quality of the biological community, hydrological characteristics and chemical characteristics. The Sixth environmental action programme (European Commission, 2001), encourages the full implementation of both the Nitrates and Water Framework Directives, in order to achieve levels of water quality that do not give rise to unacceptable impacts on, and risks to, human health and the environment.

EECCA policy context

No specific policy context directly related to the indicator is identified at the subregional level. Indirectly EECCA Environmental strategy emphasizes a need 'to implement practices for increase of nutrients levels' and 'to provide preconditions for facilitating production of environmentally clean food', which subsequently include balanced use of fertilizers.


EU level

  • Requirement for all inland and coastal waters to reach "good status" by 2015 (The Water Framework Directive (Council of the European Communities, 2000))
  • Limits applications of livestock manure to land to 170 kg N/ha/yr (The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EC) and the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC))
  • A threshold nitrate concentration of 50 mg/l is set as the maximum permissible level (The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EC) and the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC))

EECCA level
Some countries set national targets for the use of nutrients per hectare frame however these targets are not reported at the international level. Special research is needed to identify availability of targets at the EECCA countries.    

Related policy documents

  • Council Directive (91/676/EEC) 12 December 1991
    Council Directive of 12 December 1991 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources (91/676/EEC).
  • Directive 2001/81/EC, national emission ceilings
    Directive 2001/81/EC, on nation al emissions ceilings (NECD) for certain atmospheric pollutants. Emission reduction targets for the new EU10 Member States have been specified in the Treaty of Accession to the European Union 2003  [The Treaty of Accession 2003 of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. AA2003/ACT/Annex II/en 2072] in order that they can comply with the NECD.


Methodology for indicator calculation

Projections of the indicator are calculated using the CAPSIM modelling tool which has been developed by EuroCARE GBmv (Bonn, Germany).

Overview of CAPSIM model

CAPSIM is a European partial equilibrium modelling tool with behavioural functions for activity levels, input demand, consumer demand and processing. It is designed for policy-relevant analysis of the CAP and consequently covers the whole of agriculture of EU Member States in the concepts of the Economic Accounts (EAA) at a high level of disaggregation, both in the list of included items (cropping and livestock patterns and animal products per country) and in policy coverage. Technological, structural and preference changes combine with changes in exogenous inputs (e.g. population, prices or household expenditure) to determine the future development of agriculture.

The modell allows combining different projections, for example from modelling tools, expert panels or trends forecasts, and finds a compromise between these under a set of economic (e.g. market balances), spatial (e.g. used vs. available areas) and technical (e.g. balancing of feed contents and animal requirements) constraints. The projections from the following organisations have been taken into account: European Comission (2004a); FAPRI, (2004); FAO (Bruinsma, 2003); and IFPRI (Rosenrant et al., 2001a and 2001b).

CAPSIM is augmented by a calculation of nutrient balances (N,P,K) and gaseous emissions.

For more information see: or

Use of Scenarios and Key model assumptions

Baseline scenario

The baseline scenario follows a conventional definition and expands on current expectations regarding macro-economic, sectoral, technological and societal developments, as well as including those policies that have been implemented and/or adopted, which typically refer to pieces of legislation such as EU directives or political agreements.

EEA's outlooks across the various sectors and themes use a common reference set of assumptions for the key driving forces to ensure consistency across the board and facilitate cross-cutting analysis. This reference set builds on the socio-economic assumptions developed for the DG TREN baseline projections 'European energy and transport trends to 2030', which are also being used within the Clean Air forEurope (CAFE, DG ENV) programme. Within this framework, assumptions have been developed as a consistent set and cover the following key driving forces:

  • population
  • macro and macro-economic activity
  • household expenditure
  • number of households
  • average household size
  • energy flows.

The European population is expected to stabilize, but gradually to become an ageing society. Main demographical trends are presented in the Table 1. below

Table 1. Demography - population development 1990 - 2030

Population (millions)


EEA - 31

EU - 25

EU - 15

New - 10


























Average annual growth rates (%)

1990 -2000





1990 -2030





The age distribution in the EU is a growing concern, particularly in connection with pension and health expenditure and working life-time. While the accession of the 10 new Member States in 2004 has somewhat rejuvenated the EU population, it failed toreserve the trend of increasing old age dependency from 30% in the 1960s to 39% today in the EU-25.

This trend is expected t continue over the 2000-2030 period, with the share of people of 65 years and older in the total population increasing from 15% to 25% in the EU-15, and from 10% to 22% in the New-10.

The macro-economic assumptions
The macro-economic assumptions for Europe are moderately optimistic and entail challenging trade-offs in light of achieving sustainable economic development.

Average annual economic growth in the EU is expected to be 2.4% and 3.5% in the New-10. GDP assumptions are presented in the table 2.
Table 2. Income - GDP growth 2000 - 2030

GDP per capita (1000 Euro, year 2000)


EEA - 31

EU - 25

EU - 15

New - 10





















Average annual growth rates (%)





















Technological developments
Technological progress is moderate but essential in key areas such as energy, agriculture and water, but no technological breakthroughs are assumed.

More detailed information concerning technology can be found in the European Environment Outlook N4/2005 (pp. 22-23)

Sectoral developments
The service sector is expected to retain its predominance in the European economy and be instrumental in sustaining economic growth. The base line scenario uses specific technological assumptions at the sctoral level, which directly affect most of European environmental concerns. The explanations of such assumptions are available in the European Environment Outlook N4/2005 (pp. 23-24)

Extended CAP reform - liberalisation of animal product markets scenario

The current CAP, assumed to be continued to 2020 in the baseline scenario, increases prices for animal products, both by border protection and market interventions, beyond the level which woul prevail in the abcence of common market organisations. This scenarion assesses the impact of an extended CAP reform on selected environmental indicators by assuming a continued liberalisation in the context of WTO negotiations for animal products market.

Best practice scenario for fertiliser handling

The effect of significant improvements in management practices for handling fertiliser has been assessed in this scenario, which therefore depics a more environmental-friendly prospective for the European agriculture sectors. Some sets of parameters have benn changed from the base year onwards:

  • N, P and K from organic fertiliser available  for crop application are increased significantly respectively to 80%, 95% and 95% of the nitrogen.
  • The overall efficiency of farms when balancing crop nutrient needs and fertiliser applications: the overfertilisation rate is decreased (5%) and the New-8 converge towards EU-15 practices.

A stronger Euro scenario

The exchange rate in the baseline  scenario is fixed at 0.9EUR/USD from 2001 onwards, in line with the latest European Commission assumptions, thus the Euro is weaker than current market conditions. This scenario assesses  the possible effect of a stronger Euro of 0.75 EUR/USD.  This would imply lower terms of trade for agricultural goods, but import tariffs and the level of administrative prices and quota regimes would dampen price transmissions between global and EU markets and stabiilse prices.

Methodology for gap filling

The gap filling for modelling purposes includes nessesity for “completeness and consistency”. It is currently included in the COCO module.

Because the population data of CAPSIM differ from Eurostat population data which provide the bulk of the CAPSIM database, the projections have been expressed in index form (relative 2000) and smoothed with a Hodrick-Prescott filter to give a continuous series of projections of population growth. The same approach is used for (real) household expenditure.

Methodology references



Methodology uncertainty

Any outlook exercise involves a number of uncertainties and shortcomings, related for example to the methodological approaches used or the scope of the study. These information gaps and limitations are inherent in any assessment of possible futures, and this outlook would certainly have benefited from additional information covering some issues.

The main limiting factor in developing a comprehensive environmental outlook has been the lack of data, information or models covering some environmental issues.

At the time of filling of this specification the uncertainties related to the CAPSIM model were not found in the reference literature (additional research or consultation with the EEA expert is needed). The uncertainties related to the data sets used as model input are presented in the next section.

Data sets uncertainty

To be discussed with Stephane. not clear from the references studied.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • Outlook 020
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