The HELCOM targets (2013) to reduce nutrient inflow into the Baltic Sea have not been met and agricultural nutrient input remains high. Nitrates Directive, regulating fertiliser use of manure, is in many Baltic Sea Region (BSR) countries not enforced in the entire country. It also addresses only nitrogen, not phosphorus. Farm-specific nutrient bookkeeping, including manure fertilisation plans, is an effective means to plan manure fertiliser use. Still, it is not used in all Baltic Sea countries. All-in-all, estimations of manure nutrient content, use and emissions to air and waters are transnationally incomparable due to lack of harmonized methods for manure data collection. This may also hinder efficient manure use and cause unwanted emissions.
Accurate manure data for improved manure use
In current BSR, most manure is spread on fields without processing. If the data on manure nutrient content is not accurate, it may result in under- or overfertilisation. Neither is wanted. Data on manure nutrient content is thus the key to instantly make better use of manure and to reduce manure-related emissions. Farm-level nutrient bookkeeping with careful fertilisation plans is needed, but relies on high-quality information on manure nutrient content. All other actions in the manure management chain also need to be optimized, especially to reduce nitrogen losses.
However, a prerequisite for precise management and use of manure, jointly and transnationally developed and accepted tools to determine manure quantity and quality, do not exist. Manure data is collected in various ways or relies on old information, not representing the current situation. Also, the methods for nutrient bookkeeping vary from several national methods to a Eurostat method.
This lack of harmonised manure data collection renders farmers and BSR countries in an unequal position in
- transnational manure regulation,
- emission reduction targets and burden sharing,
- reporting the nutrient inflows to HELCOM and to European Commission, and
- practical actions towards minimising nutrient emissions into waters and air.
The lack of equal and comparable manure data in the BSR was noticed during the project Baltic Manure. The project ended up recommending that joint and scientifically-based tools for determining manure quantity and quality, i.e. manure standards, should be developed and implemented in cooperation between policymakers, farmers and researchers. This was seen as an effective way to enhance manure use in the BSR and to reduce nutrient inflow into the Baltic Sea.
From idea to action
The 2013 HELCOM Ministerial Meeting declared commitment to introduce farm-level nutrient bookkeeping to all BSR countries, and to develop the necessary manure standards and common guidelines for their use by the end of 2018. This action was initiated in HELCOM group on Sustainable Agricultural Practices (Agri) with Finland leading the task. A joint project was needed to determine the manure standards, to assess their impact compared to current practices and to facilitate planning actions towards their implementation on farms and in policymaking in the BSR.
MANURE STANDARDS was built on these targets. In this project, policymakers, authorities, advisors, farmers and researchers cooperated to create, pilot and implement jointly developed, accepted and equal tools to determine manure quantity and quality, i.e. manure standards, into farming practices and into policy instruments.
The project had three focal points:
- development of joint guidelines and tools for determining manure quantity and quality,
- giving recommendations and tools for best methodologies in nutrient bookkeeping, and
- piloting and assessing the new manure tools in practical farming and policy making with subsequent plans for their implementation.