The Dutch National Monitoring Programme for Effectiveness of the Minerals Policy (LMM) was initiated to allow detection of a statutory reduction in nitrate leaching caused by a decreasing N load. The starting point, or baseline, was taken as the nitrate concentration of the upper metre of groundwater sampled on 99 farms in the 1992–1995 period in the sandy areas of the Netherlands, where predominantly grass and maize grow.
We found here that a reduction in nitrate leaching of more than 20% in future would almost certainly be detected with the LMM. Detecting downward trends due to decreasing N load will require nitrate concentrations to also be related to soil drainage, precipitation excess leading to groundwater recharge and to location. Furthermore, we found that about 16% of the N load in the Dutch sandy regions was being leached to the upper metre of groundwater in the 1992–1995 period. The critical N load in approximately 1990 for exceeding the EC limit value for nitrate, NO3, (50 mg L−1) in the upper metre of groundwater for the mean situation for grassland, maize and arable land in the sandy area was found to be 210 kg ha−1 a−1. Because manure management has been altered, the critical load found will be lower than the current critical load .