The new Fertiliser Regulation is intended to improve water conservation. Which is no doubt a good idea with a view to the quality of drinking water, but in terms of the details goes well beyond the aim. This is because lawmakers have simply assigned the same status to all organic fertiliser in the revised law. The different ways that they work and the negative effects of individual fertilisers are for the most part not taken into account. A fatal signal for the most environmentally friendly of all the substances that improve the soil: compost.
Nitrogen is an indispensable nutrient for all life on earth. But here as well, the axiom is: too much of a good thing has considerable negative effects on ecological systems. Although run-off into bodies of water has been significantly reduced over the last few years, run-off from agriculture constitutes a growing problem. Liquid manure is being applied in vast quantities on agricultural land, as extensive livestock farming has no other place to put livestock excrement. The debate over the revision of the Fertiliser Regulation has thus been raging for 3 years now. The background to this Regulation is the EU Nitrates Directive, which calls upon the Member States to adhere to certain limits in ground water. The German Fertiliser Regulation is actually the revision of the original Liquid Fertiliser Regulation and is intended to codify good technical practice in the use of fertilisers as well as reduce the risks associated with use of these substances. For good reason the original Liquid Fertiliser Regulation was limited to commercial fertiliser of animal origin, as this has also been shown to be the source of high nitrogen run-off.
Lawmakers have now assigned all organic fertilisers the same status in the revision of the Fertiliser Regulation, however, thus placing not only liquid fertiliser, but also farmyard manure, fermentation residues, compost and sludge, in the same category in order to be able to apply uniform rules to these different materials.
REMONDIS, NABU and other associations are calling for the positive effects of humus fertiliser on the environment and soils to be assessed separately
Specifically, this involves the availability of total nitrogen in individual fertilisers, whereby 90% availability has been determined for slurry from cattle or pigs, up to 60% for liquid manure, while for compost, depending on the quality, it is only 3 to 5%. In other words: when compost is used, only 3 to 5 kg per 100 kg of total nitrogen applied is available. The negative impact on ground water by compost is correspondingly low. Farmers have to calculate the entire nitrogen content in their balance sheet on the fertiliser used, however, without this leading to any true benefits. The difference in nitrogen is required to promote humus formation. For this reason, in addition to REMONDIS, various associations and even environmental associations like NABU have over the last few months been intensively endeavouring to have the positive effects of humus fertiliser for soil and climate separately assessed and adequately taken into account.
But neither the German Ministry for the Environment nor the Ministry of Food and Agriculture have been prepared to take the advantages of humus fertiliser sufficiently into account. Institutions that promote soil protection, humus formation and the storage of carbon, should not block off these options themselves by instituting ever more restrictions.