30 09 2020

Technical proposals for the safe use of processed manure above the threshold established for nitrate vulnerable Zones by the Nitrate Directive

The final JRC report on ‘ Technical proposals for the safe use of processed manure above the threshold established for nitrate vulnerable Zones by the Nitrate Directive’ has been recently published.

The report is aimed at defining the criteria allowing the use of nitrogen fertilisers, partially or entirely derived from livestock manure through processing in Nitrates Vulnerable Zones subject to the ceiling of 170kg N/ha/yr as defined by the Nitrates Directive. This should ensure that the technological and market developments for the recycling of nutrients are in line with the objective of protecting water bodies against pollution originating from livestock manure.

The Nitrates Directive, aimed at protecting water from diffuse pollution (nitrates and eutrophication) from agricultural activity, establishes stringent restrictions on the use of manure and manure-based fertilisers than nitrogen-containing mineral fertilisers. This is mainly based on the fact that environmental risk can be higher for manure than for other fertilisers.

Encouraging the use of recycled nutrient resources can enable a progression towards a more circular economy and increase resource efficiency in the EU food production system. However, it remains essential to define sound criteria ensuring an equal or better environmental performance than the primary nutrient resources.

The SAFEMANURE concept, now redefined as REcovered Nitrogen from MANURE- RENURE, defines the quality and handling rules that a processed manure material should comply with, in order to be considered as RENURE.

According to the proposed criteria, the RENURE materials should follow the set of the guiding principles, as below:

  • The RENURE materials should be in line with the objective of the Nitrates Directive and therefore it should have a similar leaching potential and agronomic efficiency compared to chemical fertilisers. In the JRC report it is indicated that ‘processed manure materials having a low TOC:TN ratio (≤ 3) or a high mineral N:TN ratio (≥ 90%) may have a similar behaviour when applied to soil according to best management practices’.
  • The risk of sustainability related to human health and the environment should not increase beyond the limits already identified within the Nitrates Directive. In this regard, the report stresses the need to enforce RENURE application and storage methods in order to avoid emissions to air and overwinter leaching N losses. Limit values for Cu and Zn in RENURE materials were proposed to prevent metal accumulation in soils and to maximise the environmental benefits of RENURE implementation.
  • The RENURE criteria shall be clear and adopt a flexible approach promoting nutrient recycling and stimulating technological innovation. For what concerns this aspect, a role is foreseen for Member States, which ‘should reinforce guidance on good agricultural management practices based on agro-environmental attributes, including soil and climate conditions, within their territory.’

The report concludes that the possible implementation of RENURE can improve the nutrient efficiency of manure in agriculture and reduce GHG emissions from the manufacturing of chemical N fertilisers.

Read the report here