Sustainable development in Germany - 17 Goals to Transform our World

Farming – Environmentally sound production in our cultivated landscapes

Indicator 2.1.a: Nitrogen surplus in agriculture

(Evaluation of the year 2016 as reporting year from indicator report 2021)

Selection

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This overview includes additional information on the indicators presented above, such as a brief definition of the indicator and a description of the politically determined target value, as well as the political intention for selecting the indicator.

Definition of indicators (Taken from the official translation of the German Sustainable Development Strategy)

The indicator represents the annual nitrogen surplus for the agriculture sector, calculated as nitrogen input minus removal of nitrogen and expressed in kilograms per hectare of utilised agricultural area.

Target and intention of the German Government (Taken from the official translation of the German Sustainable Development Strategy)

Excess nitrogen input into the environment causes pollution of groundwater and surface water, the oversupply of nutrients (eutrophication) in inland waters, seas and terrestrial ecosystems, and the formation of greenhouse gases and acidifying air pollutants with adverse consequences for the climate, biodiversity and landscape quality. Overall nitrogen surpluses for Germany to be reduced to 70 kilograms per hectare of utilised agricultural land in the annual average from 2028 to 2032.

Data state

The data published in the indicator report 2021 is as of 31.12.2020. The data shown on the DNS-Online-Platform is updated regularly, so that more current data may be available online than published in the indicator report 2021.

Last modification of code (data) 2021-03-09: see changes on GitHub opens in a new window
Last modification of code (text) 2021-09-10: see changes on GitHub opens in a new window

Taken from the official translation of the German Sustainable Development Strategy

The calculation of the indicator takes account of nitrogen input resulting from fertilisers, from biological fixation, from atmospheric deposition, from seeds and plants and from animal feed. Nitrogen removal takes place through plant and animal market products. The surplus nitrogen may escape in gaseous form into the atmosphere, be enriched in the soil or leach into groundwater. In this way it can ultimately find its way into rivers or other ecosystems too. Here, the nitrogen surplus in agriculture has a direct effect on the trend in indicators 6.1.b (Nitrate in groundwater), 14.1.a (Nitrogen input via the inflows into the North and Baltic Seas) and 15.2 (Eutrophication of ecosystems) In the case of indicator 3.2.a (Emissions of air pollutants), nitrogen is released into the atmosphere as a result of agriculture impacts on the formation of nitrogen dioxides and ammonia.

The indicator is calculated by the Institute for Crop and Soil Science at the Julius Kühn Institute and the Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resources Management at the University of Giessen.

For 2018, fertilisers were found to be the main source of nitrogen input, accounting for 54.5% (94 kg nitrogen per hectare) in the overall nitrogen balance. Other important sources of nitrogen input were animal feed, with 34.1% (59 kg/ha), biological fixation, with 7.6% (13 kg/ha) and non-agricultural emissions, with 1.8% (3 kg/ha). The calculation of the indicator is based on a five-year moving average, the mean value being obtained from five reference years. The five-year moving average provides the value for the middle year of the five reference years. The figure thus takes account of year-to-year fluctuations caused by meteorological and market conditions which are beyond the control of farms. The indicator gives no information on the regional distribution of nitrogen surpluses. For the years 2016 and 2017 various input data were retrospectively updated. The calculation method was also revised, and some coefficients were updated. This has given rise to divergences from the indicator values shown in the previous publication.

In the period from 1992 to 2016, the moving five-year average nitrogen surplus fell by 19.9% from 116.6 to 93.3 kilograms per hectare/year. The reductions in the nitrogen surplus, however, are largely due to developments from the start of the time series until 2011. Since then the nitrogen surplus has stagnated, and it now remains at the 2011 level of 93 kg/ha. If the current trend continues, the aim of a reduction to an annual average of 70 kilograms per hectare of utilised agricultural area by the reference period 2028-2032 will not be achievable. The significant reduction of the nitrogen surplus at the start of the 1990s resulted from reduced use of fertilisers and falling livestock numbers in the new Länder. The comparatively meagre decline over the remainder of the time series stemmed from a slight decline in the use of mineral fertilisers and higher crop yields resulting from technical progress in plant production and cultivation, reflected in more efficient nitrogen usage and in the range of crop varieties. The same period has seen increases in the area given over to high-yield crops, such as maize and wheat, and improvements in feed conversion efficiency in livestock farming.

This summary table illustrates the evaluations of the indicator by status of previous years. This shows whether the weather symbol for an indicator has been stable or rather volatile in the past years. (Evaluations from the indicator report 2021)

Indicator

2.1.a Nitrogen surplus in agriculture

Target

Reduction of the nitrogen surpluses of the overall balance for Germany to 70 kilo-grams per hectare of utilised agricultural area on an annual average between 2028 and 2032

Year

2013

2014

2015

2016

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Source 1

 Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Organisation

Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Data source Nutrient balances and fertilizers (only available in German) opens in a new window

Source 2

 Institute for Crop and Soil Science, Julius Kühn Institute

Organisation

Institute for Crop and Soil Science, Julius Kühn Institute

Source 3

 Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resources Management, Justus Liebig University of Giessen

Organisation

Institute of Landscape Ecology and Resources Management, Justus Liebig University of Giessen