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Hans Estrup Andersen

Three decades of regulation of agricultural nitrogen losse: Experiences from the Danish Agricultural Monitoring Program

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Excess nitrogen (N) losses from intensive agricultural production are a world-wide problem causing eutrophication in vulnerable aquatic ecosystems such as estuaries. Therefore, Denmark as one of the most intensively farmed countries in the world has enforced mandatory regulations on agricultural production since the late 1980s. We demonstrate the outcome of the regulations imposed on agriculture by analyzing decadal trends in nitrate (NO3−) concentrations and loads in streams using 29 years of detailed monitoring data and survey information on agricultural practices at field level from five intensively cultivated headwater catchments. The analysis includes the importance of four main drivers (climate, land use, agricultural practices, and biogeophysical properties of catchments), each divided into different factors that may influence stream NO3− loads during three subperiods defined by the time of introduction of different mitigation measures: i) 1990–1998, ii) 1999–2007, and iii) 2008–2018.

Significant correlations with annual flow-weighted stream NO3− concentrations and/or loads were found for factors representing all of the four main drivers including precipitation, large scale climate fluctuations, runoff, previous year's runoff, baseflow index, number of annual frost days, agricultural area, livestock density, field N surplus, catch crop cover, manure storage capacity, method and time of manure spreading, and time of soil tillage.

Changes in the four drivers were reflected by the load-runoff (L-Q) relationships for each of the three subperiods within each of the five headwater catchments. The five catchments experienced large but catchment-specific downward shifts in the L-Q relationship attributable to changes in land use and agricultural management within the catchments. The documented large downward shifts in NO3− loads demonstrated for the five catchments (30–52%) as a consequence of mandatory regulation over a period of nearly three decades are a unique example of how agriculture can reduce its environmental impact.
Original languageEnglish
Article number147619
JournalScience of the total Environment
Volume787
Number of pages16
ISSN0048-9697
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

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