Why do farmers add manure to the soil

Fertilizer ordinance: changes not sufficient

The problem must finally be tackled at the root

The Federal Government's proposed amendments to the Fertilizer Ordinance are not sufficient. There are small improvements, but the package cannot specifically and permanently reduce the increasing nitrate pollution and the environmental problems it causes.

Blue algae bloom in an eutrophic lake - Photo: NABU / Carsten Pusch


March 27, 2020 - The changes to the Fertilizer Ordinance resolved by the Federal Council on Friday, which due to the Corona crisis are due in part to January 1, 2021, fall short of the mark. Even if they are sufficient to prevent fines from being paid to the EU, the opportunity has been missed to finally get to the root of the problem: the sometimes far too intensive animal husbandry that absolutely must be reduced.

NABU President Jörg-Andreas Krüger comments on the decision of the Federal Council:

Hopefully this chapter of a decade-long game is finally over. Even if still insufficient from an environmental point of view. With the tightening, the federal and state governments are jumping just enough to avert the multi-million dollar fines to Brussels.

What they are missing out on, however, is the chance to tackle the problem of overfertilization at the root: the excessively intensive animal husbandry in parts of Germany must be reduced. It is crucial to clearly limit the number of pigs, chickens and other animals kept per hectare, with additional upper limits for each district. In addition, there must be a farm gate balance sheet for each company, which makes it clear how many nutrients go into a company and how many leave it - without balancing tricks.

We now have to lead the discourse on what future-oriented animal husbandry should look like in Germany - with fair, honest solutions based on the polluter pays principle and planning security for all farmers. The end of the nitrate crisis, which is endangering our groundwater and causing severe damage to flora and fauna, has been overdue for two decades.

March 19, 2020 - In view of the current Corona crisis, the farmers' association calls for “clearly different priorities” with regard to pending laws and requirements for agriculture. What Joachim Rukwied means is the upcoming change to the fertilizer ordinance. Reason: Now it is a question of security of supply and keeping agriculture fit for work. With all understanding for the difficult situation in which we all find ourselves, however, we find: The protection of our groundwater has nothing to do with the Corona crisis! The solution to the nitrate problem - demonstrably mainly caused by agriculture - cannot be delayed and after more than 20 years of delaying tactics must not be delayed any longer.

March 16, 2020 - Resolve the Fertilizer Ordinance on April 3 in the Federal Council without changes

At the deliberations beginning on Monday in the Federal Council, the environmental organizations BUND, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, NABU and their umbrella organization, the German Nature Conservation Association, appeal to the federal states to agree to the planned changes to the fertilizer ordinance without further weakening.

In the debate of the last few weeks, everything revolved almost exclusively around the question of which minimum compromise is absolutely necessary in order to avoid a new conviction and horrific fines. The actual question of how the nitrate surpluses can be reduced in a way that is appropriate to the polluter and how it can best be reduced has been completely disregarded and the process has become an embarrassing lesson in a policy geared towards interests rather than problems.

To the joint press release from BUND, Deutsche Umwelthilfe, NABU and DNR

January 15, 2020 - The draft of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to amend the Fertilizer Ordinance was presented to the cabinet today.

Our conclusion: There are improvements, but unfortunately some changes do not go far enough. These include exceptions for the fertilization of meadows and pastures in polluted areas or the confusing rules for water distances. From our point of view, the current proposals are not sufficient to specifically and permanently reduce the increasing nitrate pollution and the resulting problems in water protection and drinking water supply. A fundamental redesign of the fertilizer ordinance, area-based animal husbandry and site- and crop-specific fertilization, which is based on the real needs of plants, would bring more nature conservation and farmers.

For decades, intensive agriculture and too high numbers of animals on too small an area have led to massive nutrient surpluses in many areas of Germany. A large part of the surplus ends up in the air and water and pollutes both our drinking water and many ecosystems through undesirable nutrient enrichment. For this reason, the European Court of Justice sued Germany and threatened to pay fines if effective measures to reduce manure and manure were not introduced. The measures now proposed were considered by the EU Commission to be sufficient to avert the impending fines of 800,000 euros per day. In the end, however, what matters is whether they will have the desired effect.

You can read the detailed comments from the leading environmental associations BUND, DNR, DUH, Germanwatch, Green League, Greenpeace, NABU and WWF here read up.

September 24, 2019 - By the middle of this week, the federal government must notify the EU Commission in writing of how it intends to improve the German fertilizer law in order to ensure the EU-wide agreed targets for the protection of groundwater and bodies of water in the future.

BUND, NABU, the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW) and the Environment Association Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR) criticize the fact that Germany has been guilty of adapting German fertilizer legislation in line with EU law for 25 years. For years, proposals have been discussed almost exclusively on the basis of whether they are approved by the agricultural sector. However, there does not seem to be any interest in actual improvements. With such a delaying tactic, no future-oriented policy can be made. It not only harms the environment and waters, but also the farmers, who rightly demand planning security.

This week, the federal government must deliver proposals that are beyond any doubt to effectively combat the real causes of high nitrate surpluses. This means: The fertilization reduction of 20 percent must also apply in grassland that is heavily polluted with nitrates. Because according to the latest FFH report, 37 percent of all grassland and water habitats are in poor condition. The next infringement procedure is already looming here. And offsetting the area-related reduction must be clearly excluded, especially for fertilizer-intensive crops such as wheat, sugar beet and potatoes.

The policy of slacking in order not to make any changes in the system of agricultural management is failing on every nook and cranny. Part of the solution can only be animal husbandry that is consistently tied to the area. It will not work without a reduction in livestock farming. The federal government is well advised to add this point in the climate package presented on Friday.

July 25, 2019 - When it comes to the ongoing issue of the Fertilizer Ordinance, the EU Commission is now apparently losing patience. Today she initiated the second stage of the infringement proceedings with a letter to the federal government. The commission criticizes the amendments recently submitted by the federal government as not being scientifically justified. She is also calling for a bill that must be available within the next eight weeks. The messing around with fertilizer law is extremely embarrassing. With its inaction, the federal government is harming not only our groundwater, but also insects. And the farmers still lack any legal and planning security. The penalties of 800,000 euros per day (!) Are now getting closer and closer.

June 14, 2019 - One week after the fertilization summit, the federal government in Berlin agreed on the evening of June 13, 2019 to tighten the fertilizer rules. But once again she doesn't jump any higher than she has to. Instead, you missed the chance to regulate the overdue link between the number of animals kept and the area with the amendment. With the abundance of exceptions that the federal and state governments have built in, the EU Commission will find it difficult to accept the proposal. Above all, the exceptions for grassland are catastrophic: The fact that meadows and pastures are generally excluded from the 20 percent discount rule is irresponsible with regard to the death of insects. Species-rich meadows and pastures are protected habitats and necessary for the survival of many species. Now meadows and pastures threaten to become a repository for liquid manure - and a grassy desert without insects. NABU has already lodged a complaint against the disappearance of the grassland in Brussels. With its proposals, the federal government is now risking not only another lawsuit on fertilizer law, but also a procedure for nature conservation.

June 6, 2019 - The amendment to the Fertilizer Ordinance is only six months old, and improvements must be made again. The sad spectacle just never ends. For decades, Germany has been delaying the necessary reduction in nitrogen surpluses so that the EU nitrate directive can finally be complied with. And what is the Federal Government and especially Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner doing? She calls a fertilization summit. Which usually means: there is a lot of talk and in the end little has changed. Or there are again too many loopholes and exceptions to the tightened regulations that have been announced.

There are indeed signs of an exemption for grassland. But if the grassland should really be excluded from the stricter fertilization regulations, that would be catastrophic. Because then there is the risk that meadows and pastures, which have not been fertilized or have only been fertilized to a limited extent, degenerate into a manure disposal point and thus become a species-poor grass desert without insects. Species-rich grassland is already at great risk - even though it is of enormous importance for biodiversity, water, soil and climate protection.

It should be clear to the federal and state ministers of agriculture and the environment: The nitrate problem cannot be solved without an environmentally and animal-friendly conversion of animal husbandry. Animal husbandry must be consistently linked to the area and the number of animals must not exceed two livestock units per hectare - that is, for example, two cows. This means that in the intensive animal husbandry regions, in which the extreme nitrate problems also occur, animal populations have to be reduced.

And it is also clear that if Germany does not drastically reduce its nitrate levels in groundwater and surface water, penalties will be due to the EU next year. In the amount of 800,000 euros per day! It is questionable whether the results of the fertilization summit are suitable to prevent this.


50 milligrams per liter of water - that is the limit value for nitrate in ground and surface water in Europe. In Germany, however, 28 percent of the measuring points exceed this value. If the nitrate gets into our drinking water, it can be harmful to health, especially in babies and small children. On the other hand, this amount of nitrate in the water has serious effects on nature.

Almost half of all ecosystems in Germany are now affected by eutrophication and acidification. The mostly nitrogen-poor ecosystems in Germany are over-fertilized by the nitrogen introduced. Their original plant species are being displaced by nitrogen-loving species, the composition of the plant communities is out of balance and as a result, biodiversity declines. More than 70 percent of the plant species that are on the Red List in Germany belong to the types of nutrient-poor locations.

Due to seepage and leaching, excess nutrients, including too much nitrate, accumulate in our bodies of water and in the groundwater. The water quality deteriorates considerably, our drinking water and thus human health are endangered.

Germany is delaying EU efforts

As early as 1991, the European Union wanted to ensure that this did not happen with the Nitrates Directive. But Germany has been delaying, delaying and complicating the consistent implementation of the directive again and again for almost three decades.

Even modern techniques will not solve the problem causally - Photo: Gouwenaar

The result: In 2003, Germany received its first warning from the EU. In 2006 the fertilizer ordinance will finally be adjusted. Only inadequate, found the EU Commission and sent another warning letter in 2012. In 2013 she initiated infringement proceedings for non-compliance with the Nitrates Directive and rising nitrate levels in groundwater and surface water. And again it took a number of years before Germany settled for an amendment to the Fertilizer Ordinance in 2017. But this amended law also fell through at the European Court of Justice: Germany was convicted in 2018. There is now a threat of contractual penalties of 800,000 euros per day (!) If Germany does not finally take effective measures to reduce nitrate levels by early summer 2020.

One thing is clear: the previous tactic of simply sitting out the problem no longer works. And technical measures alone will not be enough to permanently reduce nitrate pollution. We have to get to the root of the problem and stop the systematic overfertilization in agriculture and the far too high animal density by changing our direction in agricultural policy.

This is what NABU demands

In order to sustainably reduce the nitrate content in groundwater and surface water, we must not only combat the symptoms with modern application technology, but rather address the cause of the problem. The aim must be to adhere to the requirements of the EU nitrates directive on a long-term and permanent basis.

1. Area-bound animal husbandry

The reason for the over-fertilization in many areas is the excessive animal density. Especially in the regions with intensive and land-independent animal husbandry, such as in the Münsterland and in large parts of Lower Saxony, the high number of cattle per hectare leads to systematic overfertilization.

The animal density is far too high in many regions - Photo: Ingo Ludwichowski

In order to reduce the problems here, area-based animal husbandry with a maximum of 1.8 LU (livestock units) per hectare is necessary. A so-called cattle unit corresponds, for example, to a full-grown dairy cow or about seven fattening pigs.

Limiting the livestock density to this level would in many cases make it necessary to reduce the number of livestock in intensive animal husbandry areas.

2. CAP reform: reward nature-friendly agriculture instead of flat-rate direct payments

Instead of continuing to distribute the majority of the subsidies via the flat-rate direct payments according to the watering can principle, the funds from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should be reserved for nature-friendly farming. At least 50 percent of the funds in the 1st pillar must be used for eco-schemes in the future.

3. Maintain sufficient distances from the water

To protect water from overfertilization, a distance of ten meters to the edge of the water should be maintained. This is already being implemented by some federal states. Because the legally prescribed five meters do not offer sufficient protection against the leaching of nutrients.

Strips of the waterways must be overgrown with site-adapted fringing vegetation that prevents nitrate and phosphate fertilizers from being leached into the surface waters.

4. Make fertilization site-specific and crop-specific

The current fertilizer ordinance allows an upper limit of up to 170 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare and year. However, fertilization should be site-specific and adapted to the needs of the respective crop, instead of being based on excessively high and rigid upper limits.

Maisacker - Photo: BirdLife Europe / shutterstock.com

Due to the new calculation basis for nitrogen requirements, the current fertilizer ordinance allows higher nitrogen applications than before. For maize this is up to 40 kilograms of nitrogen and for wheat up to 30 kilograms. These nitrogen supplies are not based on the needs of the plant.

Measures to build humus, which serve the soil protection and the water-holding capacity of soils, such as the use of compost or solid manure and the corresponding amounts of fertilizer required for this, are to be taken into account, insofar as they do not contribute to over-fertilization.

5. Include mineral fertilizers completely in the nitrogen balance

Mineral fertilizers must also be fully included in the total nitrogen balance.Due to their high solubility, they contribute much more to nitrate leaching in surface and groundwater than slowly available farm manures such as compost and solid manure. Therefore, a basic separation of synthetic mineral fertilizers, liquid manure and fermentation residues as well as compost and solid manure should be made.

6. Limit fertilization of phosphate to the needs of the plants

Phosphate is a finite raw material that is currently mainly mined from deposits in Morocco and China and is often radioactively contaminated. In addition, the soils in the intensive animal husbandry regions are mostly saturated with phosphate.

The fertilizer ordinance has so far allowed phosphate fertilization that is up to ten kilograms more than the plant's needs. Phosphate is particularly critical for the overfertilization of watercourses, as it is a deficiency element for most plants and, with an excessive supply, also makes it possible to use too much nitrogen in the water. This leads to undesirable because excessive plant growth in the water (algal blooms, low-oxygen death zones). For this reason, phosphate may only be fertilized to the extent that the plants actually need. This need is to be determined site-specific and specific to the type of crop.

7. No fertilization of catch crops

Fertilizing catch crops should be prohibited as a matter of principle. Legumes are often grown as catch crops, which are able to bind atmospheric nitrogen through their symbiosis with the nodule bacteria. This fixation of atmospheric nitrogen is reduced by additional fertilization.

Implementation of the nitrate directive in Germany - a never-ending story

The drama begins in the early 90s


The EU adopts the European nitrates directive. This directive is one of the first documents of EU environmental protection legislation and is intended to ensure water quality in Europe. It aims to reduce and avoid pollution from nutrient inputs by agriculture and obliges the member states to draw up rules of good professional practice for fertilization and, if necessary, to promote them. In addition, the guideline enables particularly endangered areas to be identified for which action programs with specific measures are to be drawn up and implemented.


The Nitrates Directive is to be implemented in national law in all member states this year.


The Fertilizer Ordinance will be passed in Germany with a delay of three years.

At that time, however, Germany decided against the establishment of region-specific action programs - for example for the Münsterland or southern Oldenburg. Since then, all fertilizer laws and regulations apply to the entire agricultural area in Germany.


In December 2003, the EU Commission sent Germany a final written warning because the limit values ​​of 210 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare set out in the Fertilizer Ordinance violated the Nitrate Directive. The EU Commission decides to take Germany to the European Court of Justice.


The initiated infringement proceedings are forcing the federal government to act: the amended Fertilizer Ordinance will be passed at the beginning of the year.

Nonetheless, some regulations in the Fertilizer Ordinance are not tightened, as would have been expected, but on the contrary softened: For example, the farm gate balance is completely abolished, numerous exceptions to basic rules are allowed - such as barriers to the spreading of manure in winter - and the growing amount of nutrients is reduced Biogas plants ignored, which to this day do not have to be fully documented by the companies.


The amended regulation does not achieve the promised goals. This is the result of a review by a federal-state working group and the German nitrate report from the Federal Environment and Agriculture Ministry. Instead, both reports indicate that the fertilizer ordinance needs to be adjusted considerably.


In a brief statement, the Scientific Advisory Council for Agricultural Policy (WBA) and for Fertilization Issues (WBD) of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Advisory Council for Environmental Issues advocate an ambitious reform of the Fertilizer Ordinance.

At the same time, the EU Commission is initiating further infringement proceedings against the German government due to inadequate implementation of the EU Nitrates Directive. From the point of view of the EU Commission, the German government should have acted immediately in view of the results of the 2012 nitrate report submitted.

2012 to 2017

The next marathon of negotiations and arguments begins. In the next five years, the following topics and regulatory areas will be particularly controversial in terms of agricultural and environmental policy:

  • Farm gate balance (nutrient balance)
  • Training period for farm manure / liquid manure
  • Buffer strips to waters
  • Control values: permitted over-fertilization of nitrogen and phosphate
  • Fertilizer register: data provision

Opposite each other are parties with very different interests: on the one hand representatives of the farmers' association and the agricultural sector, the CDU / CSU in the federal government, the parliament and the agricultural committee as well as the CDU-governed federal states. From this side there is little interest or activity in making fundamental changes to the existing fertilizer ordinance.

“The German fertilizer ordinance has proven itself and will ensure further improvements in water protection in the future. The fertilizer law with the most recently created transport regulation is currently unfolding its full effect. That is why the demand for a fundamental amendment to the Fertilizer Ordinance is incomprehensible to the farmers. "

(DBV - German Farmers Association, 2014)

On the other hand, there is a broad spectrum of representatives from the EU Commission, the Greens and the SPD in the Federal Environment Ministry, in Parliament and in the Agriculture Committee, as well as in the SPD-governed federal states and those with green-run agriculture ministries. There are also representatives from science (advisory boards), environmental associations and water management.

"From the point of view of the WBA, the inadequate enforcement and control of the fertilizer ordinance contributes significantly to one of the central environmental problems in animal husbandry."

(Scientific Advisory Board on Agricultural Policy at the BMEL, 2015)


In the autumn, the EU Commission files a lawsuit against Germany. The pressure on the federal government is growing and is leading to a further process of adapting fertilizer legislation in Germany.


In the course of the year, the individual parts of the fertilizer package are decided upon in agreement with the Federal Environment Ministry and in some cases with the consent of the Bundesrat in the Bundestag.

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture hopes that the fertilizer package will send a signal to the EU Commission and the pending legal action at the European Court of Justice. Proponents believe that they have taken sufficient measures to ensure compliance with the EU Nitrates Directive in the future.

The fertilizer package consists of the following regulations: the Fertilizer Act (DüngG), the Fertilizer Ordinance (DüV), the Material Flow Balance Ordinance (StoffBilV) and the Bringing Ordinance (WDüngV).

Critical evaluation of the federal government's fertilizer package

Critical voices predominate in the assessment of the new fertilizer ordinance and material balance ordinance in particular. A large number of regulatory points that have been made are - despite some successes achieved - classified as inadequate by science and environmental associations:

  • too long transition periods
  • too generous training period and too high amounts of chargeable application losses for organic fertilizer (farm manure / liquid manure)
  • too high upper limits for organic fertilizer (170 kilograms per hectare), especially in the so-called endangered areas
  • insufficient distance regulations / buffer strips to waters
  • too much consideration of feed losses
  • too high fertilizer requirements
  • further permissible nutrient surpluses as well as lack of limitation of phosphate fertilization on over-supplied soils
  • further possible exceptions for the application of fermentation residues
  • no effective fertilizer register, as the obligation to record the actual nitrogen and phosphate fertilization was not introduced
  • inadequate rules on material flow balance
  • Too much freedom for the federal states to order further measures in the endangered areas
  • limited controllability and sanctioning of violations

"It is therefore very questionable whether the regulation that has been adopted provides the basis for reducing nitrate inputs into water and reaching the limit of 50 milligrams of nitrate per liter in groundwater."

(Association of Municipal Enterprises, 2017)

“Germany must now get the curve and tighten the fertilizer specifications so that massive overfertilization is prevented in the future. With the regulations now envisaged, politicians accept that our soils will continue to be polluted with vast amounts of nitrate and that the quality of our waters will steadily deteriorate. "

(Martin Weyand, BDEW General Manager Water / Wastewater, 2017)

“(...) the new fertilizer law will not achieve any significant reduction in nitrogen over-fertilization and thus in nitrate inputs into the groundwater. The main reason for this is the extensive disregard of all agricultural and environmental scientific recommendations (...). "

(Prof. Dr. Friedhelm Taube, University of Kiel, 2018)


In June 2018, Germany was sentenced by the European Court of Justice. The judgment refers to the old fertilizer ordinance from 2006, but the EU Commission has repeatedly signaled that the changes in the new version passed in 2017 are not sufficient to implement the nitrates directive.


It has been known since the beginning of 2019 that the EU Commission also considers the new fertilizer package to be insufficient. The federal government is now under renewed pressure to improve the fertilizer ordinance of 2017. If they fail to take efficient measures to comply with the nitrate limit values ​​by early summer 2020, there is a risk of contractual penalties of 800,000 euros per day.

After 28 years, finally tackling the problem at the root

In many areas of European and German agricultural and environmental policy, there has been little progress in solving urgent problems. A major problem area is the nutrient surpluses and inputs from agriculture and the resulting environmental pollution.

The NABU demands that the problems caused by the excessively high nitrate values ​​be finally tackled at the root and fundamental reforms in fertilizer legislation and agricultural policy be initiated. Because clean water is and will remain essential for human health and for natural ecosystems.

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