Yes we can – reduce ammonia emissions in European agriculture

modern agricultural machinery.

While traditional manure spreading techniques on the field result in the loss of more than two thirds of the applied ammonium and nitrogen in the form of undesirable ammonia emissions, direct manure injection can reduce such losses by well over 90%.

Little wonder then that the European Commission, in their 2013 impact assessment on improving air quality in Europe, identified modern manure application machinery as the most cost-efficient solution to bring down ammonia emissions in the EU.

Still, direct manure injection is not yet practiced widely (let alone, mandatory) in many EU Member States – so the theoretical saving potential from this technology would appear to be enormous.

To discuss this issue and other best practices to reduce ammonia emissions in the EU the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) organized an expert discussion on 29 February in Brussels.

CEMA was invited to present the perspective and experience of the machinery industry. On behalf of CEMA, Mr. Johan Courtz, Technical Director of the Dutch manufacturer Veenhuis, presented the four different machinery solutions available to apply manure and the advances that they can bring in terms of reducing N losses: while traditional manure spreading results in approximately 70% of N losses, application with the help of a drag hose or trailing shoe reduces such losses by around 40% and 30% respectively. Ultimately, direct injection can bring down N losses to merely 10%.

In return, this means that injection ensures 90% of N is available to the crop. As such, and apart from less ammonia emissions and reduced smell, manure injections means tangible agronomic and financial benefits for the farmer in terms of:

  • getting a better use of minerals(N)
  • more crop
  • less need for fertilizer

To be sure, investment for injection equipment is higher than that for traditional equipment. However, as experiences from the Netherlands and the Flemish Region in Belgium have shown, injection services are often offered in a cost-efficient manner to smaller farmers by agricultural contractors.

An approach that has worked – the case of the Netherlands

Evidence from the Netherlands has shown that legal policy can bring down ammonia emissions from agriculture quickly and considerably. In the Netherlands, narrow-band application by trailing feet or shoes and shallow injection were made mandatory in the 1990s for grassland. The same was the case for direct incorporation of surface-applied manure and injection of manure into arable land.

As a result, ammonia emissions from field application in the Netherlands fell sharply from around 220 million kg in 1992 to around 70 million kg in 1996, falling further to 40 million kg in 2010.

As the revised EU’s National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive is about to encourage EU Member States to promote advanced manure application techniques within their borders, it is to be hoped that the positive example of the Netherlands – which has also been applied in similar ways in Denmark and the Belgian region of Flanders – will find their way to further corners (and fields) of Europe.  

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