Water Protection in Agriculture
Fertilization of agricultural land is a commonly used agronomic practice to enhance crops. Industrial agricultural practices have led to leaching of nutrients, mainly nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), into ground and surface water. The main effect of this nutrients over-enrichment is the rapid growth of algae on the surface of the water, a phenomenon called “algae bloom”. When it occurs, the surface layer formed by algae prevents sunlight from getting through it and reaching the bottom, causing decreased water clarity and death of larger plant species such as seagrass. The loss of plant life represents destruction of habitats that provided shelter, food and nursery grounds for many marine animals. Moreover, the deposition of organic material – decomposed by bacteria – increases oxygen consumption on the sea floor, which lead to oxygen depletion and creates dead zones. These now cover 15% of the Baltic Sea floor. Some algae species are toxic for marine mammals and can also be dangerous for humans.
Eutrophication causes reduction of biodiversity, erosion of coasts and impoverishment in fish population. Despite some small improvements, the Baltic Sea is heavily affected by eutrophication (97% of the surface area) resulting from excess nutrient loads for many years and about 50% of all nutrients stem from agriculture. Climate change could also have a negative impact on the Baltic Sea catchment area, exacerbating eutrophication – since water and air temperature rise could create better conditions for the growth of algae blooms.
In addition, intensive rearing of animals represents an important source for over-fertilizing of adjacent farmland. Intensive animal production carries within a number of serious risks which are not limited to the farm area, but directly related to the neighbouring area and indirectly impacts the environment conditions of the Baltic Sea Region:
- Landscape transformation
- Loss of biodiversity
- Greenhouse gas emissions
- Livestock production waste
- Deterioration of the quality of life of local residents
- Legislation and legal problems
The negative consequences of industrial livestock production have not only environmental, but also social, economic, legislative and legal connotations.
Maritime transport of hazardous substances and waste such as radioactive materials, oil and fertilizers also pose a threat to the Baltic Sea environment. On the latter, CCB published a new report, “Concept Best Available Technologies & Techniques: Bulk Fertilizer Handling” to further the necessary discussion for port improvements for handling fertilizers in Baltic Sea ports. To that intention, CCB encourages industry development of best practices in an open innovation setting, with learning shared among peer organizations.
The overall goal is therefore to reduce nutrient leakage from agriculture and industrial animal farm (IAF) to levels that do not cause widespread eutrophication of fresh waters, coastal and marine areas in the Baltic Sea Region.
How is CCB working with this issue?
Our actions are directed both at enforcement of pollution abatement requirements applicable to conventional, organic and industrial farming as well as at promotion of nutrient resource efficiency in agricultural sector. We lead this work with a number of dedicated national experts and we participate actively within HELCOM working groups and Heads of Delegation meetings to uphold the agreed goals and targets in the Baltic Sea Action Plan to reduce nutrient loads. Many of our actions regarding nutrient resource management and nutrient runoff are focused to Poland, as 38% of all farmland in the Baltic Sea Region is found there.
We promote EU circular economy approach for efficient use and recycling of limited natural mineral phosphorous, and climate-demanding nitrogen fertilizers – and produce and publish materials on eutrophication and agriculture. A social media campaign on eutrophication – #KeepTheBalticBlue – run in September 2018 under the ResponSEAble project, aiming at raising public awareness on this issue.
Especially important are large scale animal farms. Industrial Animal Farming is a specific project which aims to prevent the negative consequences of intensive livestock production in the Baltic Sea Region. We focus our work on IAF in Poland, as most of the IAFs in the Baltic Sea Region are located there.
Along with the eutrophication campaign we launched our Baltic Talks, live streaming on different topics on our social media accounts. The first one was about IAF: watch it on our YouTube Channel. All the videos prepared and promoted during the campaign are available here. Another milestones in CCB activities is the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year, launched in 2009 by WWF to highlight best practices and recognize farmers who are leading the way to reduce nutrient runoff on their farms. The countries participating in the award are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden. In 2018 WWF additionally welcomed the participation of Belarus and Ukraine and CCB had an important role in bringing these two countries to the contest and supporting sustainable farming. See the event here.
See our separate website: CCB – Industrial Animal Farming and Map of Industrial rearing of poultry and pigs in the Baltic Sea Region
CCB is also taking part of #OurBlueLung campaign, led by Seas at Risk, to put pressure on EU governments to respect the commitment they made under the EU marine law to deliver clean and healthy seas by 2020. Throughout 2019 and 2020, we will take action at different points in time to remind governments of their commitment, focusing on five important threats to our seas and ocean: overfishing, plastics, noise pollution, intensive farming and chemical pollution.
What can countries do together?
- Work together to promote ecologically sustainable agricultural practices within the framework of the recommendations under HELCOM;
- Reform the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) to promote sustainable agriculture via coupling EU agricultural subsidies with requirements to take measures to substantially reduce the nutrient run-off to water from agricultural production.
What can each country do?
- Introduce environmental conditionality on all agricultural subsidies, such as requirements for nutrient-balanced fertilization;
- Promote the use of less intensive, organic farming practices;
- Reduce emissions from land and maritime traffic;
- Ban open cage fish aquaculture.
What can you do?
- Support sustainable agriculture by actively asking for and buying products which are certified to have been produced with sustainable methods;
- Avoid over fertilizing your own garden and using pesticides.
Helsinki, 3 March 2020 – This week at the HELCOM Stakeholder Conference and High-level Meeting , Coalition Clean Balic and the WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme presented a joint ‘Shadow Plan’ in response to the ongoing Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) update process ....Read More
This shadow plan presents NGO requests to HELCOM for the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) update. The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) adopted in 2007, by the Helsinki Convention, had the goal to restore the Baltic marine environment to a good ecological status by...Read More
More than 100 environmental organisations, led by Seas At Risk, BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, Oceana, Surfrider Foundation Europe and WWF launched the “Blue Manifesto”. The rescue plan lays out concrete actions which must be delivered by set dates in order to turn the tide on...Read More
Relevant links to international NGOs working on water protection in agriculture
- Map of Industrial rearing of poultry and pigs in the Baltic Sea Region
- CCB Baltic Talks on Industrial Animal Farming
- “Combating eutrophication in the Baltic Sea: further and more effective action needed” (European Court of Auditors, 2016, 2MB)
- “The integrated assessment of eutrophication” (State of the Baltic Sea, 2017, 8MB)
- “The circular economy and the bioeconomy – Partners in sustainability” (EEA, 12.9 MB)
- “Key Story – The story of eutrophication and agriculture of the Baltic Sea” (ResponSEAble, 2018, 2.92 MB)
- Story Map (ResponSEAble/BEF DE, 2018)
- “Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award 2018” (WWF, 2018, 22.79 MB)
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