Policy Considerations and Conclusions

From the data presented and discussed in section 1, it is possible to appreciate how in the last 20 years the milk and dairy sector in the European Union has become more intensive and specialized. This is confirmed by the observation of the decline in the number of dairy cows and the increase of the average yield per cow. This implies that, apart from those specific territorial areas where the policy measures implemented were

Share of different livestock in manure nitrogen production in EU28, nitrous oxide and Ammonia, average 2009-2012. Source

Figure 5.1.1.6 Share of different livestock in manure nitrogen production in EU28, nitrous oxide and Ammonia, average 2009-2012. Source: Eurostat, 2015:132.

Share of different livestock in manure phosphorous production in EU-28, nitrous oxide and Ammonia, average 2009-2012. Source

Figure 5.1.1.7 Share of different livestock in manure phosphorous production in EU-28, nitrous oxide and Ammonia, average 2009-2012. Source: Eurostat, 2015:133.

aimed at different results, the sectoral production has become (and will be) more and more concentrated on fewer, but larger, farms (Eurostat, 2015; 2014). In agreement with CEAS (2000), these trends are the result of various conditions characterizing the market economy of the area under consideration, which has particularly been influenced by the price support regime introduced with the EU agricultural policy and the technological development and the structural changes in the production sector and in the up- and downstream supply chain. This chapter does not analyze these aspects. What must be highlighted is the increased environmental damage as production intensity increases. As observed in the previous section, intensive milk and dairy production is inevitably associated with high stocking rates, as well as high use of pesticides and fertilizers. This results in direct point source and diffuse pollution, as well as pressure on marginal habitats and landscape features, which affect environmental components such as landscape and habitat, biodiversity, soil, water, and air.

The European Union has set targets for the nitrate concentration with the EU Nitrates Directive 91/676/EEC (European Commission, 1991), establishing a threshold of 50 mg nitrate per liter of groundwater. This value forms part of the principles listed in the EU Water Framework Directive in 2000 (2000/60/EC) (European Commission, 2000) and is refined by the World Health Organization, which establishes an acceptable daily intake of 3.7 mg nitrate per kilogram of body weight. In terms of comparison, a person would have to drink large quantities of water and vegetables per day to exceed the acceptable value. The Directive also set values for nitrogen and phosphorous for surface water. The values estimate the maximum allowable ecological risk to the quality of water in the surface. As for phosphorous, this is slowly absorbed by soils so the EU does not set an absolute threshold (Bouma, 2011). The equilibrium condition between input and output balances of phosphorous should be judged in relation to different farms and soils.

Furthermore, notable uncertainty exists in the dairy as well as the agricultural sector as a whole because a series of measurement problems have come up with the interpretation of EU legislation for nitrate, phosphorous, and ammonia concentrations. First, the 50 mg per liter of upper groundwater as appears in the Nitrates Directive does not provide a clear spatial definition. The term upper is somehow confusing. Some countries interpret the groundwater depth as 1 m below surface; some other countries consider instead a depth of 5 m (Bouna, 2011). To sort out this problem, various authors (de Gruijter et al., 2006; Brus and Knotter, 2008; Knotters and Brus, 2010) consider the use of randomized sampling techniques to obtain representative and statistically significant values for given agricultural areas. In the real world, the above-mentioned suggestions are not followed due to the high costs to determine the sampling for the areas under consideration. The main effect of this yet unresolved measurement problem is the possibility for dairy farmers to be subject to inefficient fines applied when exceeding thresholds.

A similar problem occurs in terms of the scale of measurement. Measurement implies a record of data in a given point in space and time. What happens when the scale changes? How should one consider the measurement if the space changes from a given point (the area of a farm), to a local or regional or national level? Should the measurement still be considered a point measurement?. Lobsey et al. (2010) argue that stratification sampling methods can be achieved and tested with modern high-quality sensors and provide indications for better threshold values at all level of governance.

Likewise, measuring ammonia concentrations from manure is expensive and technically not easy to compute. Sonneveld et al. (2008) argue the existence of threshold values applied to small agricultural areas. These ammonia values range, for example, for cattle manure between 16% and 68% evaporation at ground or surface levels, respectively. When cattle follow a low-protein diet, evaporation occurs at 30% rather than 68%.

Over the last 30 years, EU regulation, as mentioned above, has considered the quota system as policy guidance in the dairy sector. Concerns are arising because this system comes to an end in 2015. Effectiveness of environmental policies relies heavily on research and should be carried out with consultations involving agents at all levels of the community, maintaining lively debates with farmers, citizens, and policy makers. When controversies exist on measurement of current emission thresholds, external high skilled researchers may also be called upon to advise on regulatory issues. This is particularly relevant, for example, in agricultural areas presenting high biodiversity risks.

The following suggestions arise to apply threshold emission values. First, values, particularly for ammonia, should be defined at point as well as at the regional and national level. Second, regulations should be flexible to adapt to changes occurring on the landscape as well as water and soil. Third, a strategic plan should be encouraged at national level of the EU-28 countries to reflect local and regional conditions. Finally, farmers must fully commit to improving environmental quality in order for environmental policy to work in an efficient manner.

 
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