BEATLES provides feedback to the EU consultation on the updated rules on the use of certain fertilising materials from livestock manure

BEATLES Horizon Europe project (2022-2026) provided feedback to the EU consultation on Nitrates, – updated rules on the use of certain fertilising materials from livestock manure (RENURE) which expected to receive inputs from 19 April to 17 May 2024.

AEIDL is leading BEATLES work package 5 on transition through policy recommendations and tools. Blanca Casares, Policy Expert at AEIDL, coordinates the reply in colaboration with other work packages leaders and in particular the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

The project considers that the update of RENURE directive presents the potential to enable livestock farmers to produce fertiliser from their own manure which favours more sustainable management. By utilising resources on the farm itself, farmers can reduce their reliance on synthetic fertilisers, which often require significant energy inputs for production. Additionally, recycling nutrients from manure helps to close the nutrient loop, minimising nutrient runoff into water bodies and reducing the need for additional chemical inputs. Overall, this approach aligns with sustainable Climate-Smart Agricultural (CSA) practices and can contribute to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions such as CO2, nitrogen while promoting circular economy principles.

Concerning the proposal, the 170 kg N per hectare limit, to be authorised by the Member State, is viewed as overly generous and inadequately tailored to the diverse circumstances of farms. It is emphasized that the timing of this amendment proposal’s publication disregards assessments associated with the directive, which could have provided a basis for a more informed figure based on the assessment outcomes.

The regulation is also considered to suffer from not taking phosphate into account. Degraded or poorly stored and spread manure loses much of its nitrogen before it can be applied to fields, while the phosphate content remains as it is. This reduces the N/P ratio of manure to very low levels. Excess P is absorbed by topsoil and ends up in a runoff, causing eutrophication of watercourses, including coastal marine areas. The Nitrates Directive needs to be reformed to include a P-loading directive that only a few national governments within the EU have already set up (eg 10 kgP/ha/yr in Germany).

Further guidance to Member States is proposed for a coherent design of complementary national legislation in this respect. Divergences in the approaches employed can create confusion about the applicable rules.

Finally, it is important to highlight that farmers face a need for additional knowledge to meet these requirements, prompting a proposal to enhance national advisory systems to support them in this regard. Moreover, adopting measures to decrease nitrates, like upgrading equipment or altering agricultural methods, can incur significant costs. This financial strain is especially daunting for smaller-scale farmers and should be anticipated in future allocations of public funds for agricultural support.

Author: Blanca Casares (AEIDL)