Green pressures grow on Danish agriculture

Dead fjord heightens worries over eutrophication amid calls for ecological farming

Danish agriculture should be "radically" changed over the next ten years in order to reduce its environmental impacts, the Danish Society for Nature Conservation (DN) said yesterday. The pressure group is calling for immediate steps to reduce nitrogen pollution and a longer term shift towards organic agriculture.

The move adds to already accelerating pressure on farmers and policy makers to cut down on nitrogen inputs. In recent weeks, the governing Social Democratic Party has suggested creating a fertiliser tax. Government ministries and the national farmers' association are to meet soon to discuss this and other issues.

More recently, the Marjara fjord in north-east Jutland succumbed to calm weather and high nutrient loads by dying completely. "It couldn't be more serious," a senior Environmental Protection Agency official told ENDS Daily. "The basin is dead; there's no cure."

Agriculture is largely responsible for Denmark's significant eutrophication of water bodies. Yesterday, the DN demanded an immediate reduction in maximum livestock densities and nitrogen application rates. It also wants tighter restrictions on winter cover crops, stricter rules on the use of manure and restoration of water meadows to act as natural nitrogen buffers.

In the longer term, says Rikke Lundsgaard of the DN, "these polluting problems can't be [solved] by reducing nitrogen application. We have to change the system." The group wants a radical shift towards organic agriculture.

The Danish Farmers Unions (DFU) has reacted with dismay to some of the DN's proposals. "You may just as well try to make water flow upwards," said Carsten Voltzmann. Nevertheless, the DFU is facing growing pressures to achieve real cuts in nitrogen pollution.

The association acknowledges that a 1987 national target of halving nitrogen inputs to land by 1997 has led to only a 14% fall, and that the implementation of further measures by farmers will only increase this to 32%. In late August it brought together senior scientists from several government agencies to advise it on the scale of the problems and how they could be tackled.

Further adding to the challenge facing farmers, the governing Social Democratic Party recently suggested new actions to reduce the use of fertilisers in agriculture, in particular the idea of a fertiliser tax. According to Hjalge Aaberg, the party is also suggesting that all local and national government bodies buy only organic produce and that the Danish government should work domestically and in the EU to promote "ecological" agriculture. "It's a party document," says Mr Aaberg, "but we expect that [it] will inspire ministers."

Follow Up:
Danish Society for Nature Conservation , tel: +45 33 32 20 21; Danish Farmers Unions, +45 33 12 75 61; Social Democratic Party, tel: +45 31 39 15 22.

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