02 March 2023 at 00:03
The sustainability of Dutch agriculture has stagnated in the past fifteen to twenty years. The nitrogen surplus hardly decreased, while the emission of greenhouse gases and particulate matter from stables has even increased. This is evident from the latest figures from Statistics Netherlands on Thursday.
Dutch agriculture has become more sustainable on several fronts since 1995. For example, nitrogen emissions were halved in 2008, mainly due to changes in fertilizer use. This decline has not continued since then, as a result of which the total amount of nitrogen in the Netherlands continues to rise every year.
Statistics Netherlands therefore speaks of a nitrogen surplus: considerably more nitrogen enters our country via artificial fertilizers and animal feed than goes out again via agricultural products. The surplus is mainly in manure, which soaks into the soil and water and also precipitates from the air in the form of ammonia.
Nitrogen is the biggest problem, the share of greenhouse gases is smaller
Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture fell until 2003 and have since risen slightly. The emission of particulate matter, which arises from, among other things, ammonia and is released around stables and greenhouses, has also risen since 2003. In that year there was a dip in particulate matter emissions due to an outbreak of bird flu, Statistics Netherlands explains.
There are clear differences between arable farming and livestock farming. Dairy farming is the largest source of greenhouse gases and ammonia in Dutch agriculture.
While nitrogen pollution can largely be traced back to agriculture, this does not apply to greenhouse gas emissions: agriculture as a whole emits 12 percent of greenhouse gases annually, according to Statistics Netherlands. Road traffic, households and industry are larger sources.
Economic value of agriculture drops to 1 percent
The fact that the total production of Dutch agriculture has increased partly explains the stagnation of sustainability. Since 1995, total agricultural production in the Netherlands has increased by 20 percent.
Remarkably enough, the importance of agriculture for the Dutch economy decreased sharply at the same time. According to Statistics Netherlands, the total economic value of the agricultural sector fell from 3 percent of the gross national product in 1995 to 1 percent in 2020.
Nitrogen emissions will decrease in the coming years. But that decrease will not be strong enough to achieve the targets for 2030, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency concluded last Tuesday on the basis of proposed policy.