Logo of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
To the main menuTo the main content

Nitrogen use and food production in European regions from a global perspective

Article | 01-12-2014
Farmer cultivates his land

Current production systems for crops, meat, dairy and bioenergy in the European Union (EU) rely strongly on the external input of nitrogen (N). The current paper reviews key features of the complex relationships between N use and food production in Europe in order to develop novel options for a more N-efficient, less N-polluting and secure European food system.

One option is to relocate feed and livestock production from Northwestern to Central and Eastern Europe. This would allow a reduction of N rates and N pollution in cereal production in Northwest Europe by 30% (50 kg N/ha), while increasing total cereal production in Europe. Another option is a change towards legume-based cropping systems to produce animal feed, in order to decrease dependence on N fertilizer and feed imports.

The greatest challenge for Europe is to decrease the demand for feed commodities, and thus for land and N, by a shift to more balanced (and healthier) diets with less animal protein. These drastic changes can be stimulated by targeted public–private research funding, while the actual implementation can be enhanced by smart payment schemes using, for example money from the Common Agricultural Policy, certification and agreements between stakeholders and players in the food and energy chain.

All correspondence should be addressed to: hans.vangrinsven@pbl.nl

Author(s)H. J. M. van Grinsven, J. H. J. Spiertz, H. J. Westhoek, A. F. Bouwman and J. W. Erisman
Publication date01-12-2014
PublicationThe Journal of Agricultural Science