Conventional agriculture is causing enormous environmental damage in Germany, warns a study by the country’s Federal Environment Agency, saying a transition to organic farming and stricter regulation is urgently needed. EurActiv Germany reports.
Spanning over 50% of the country, agriculture takes up by far the biggest amount of land in the country, and is one of its most important economic sectors.
But intensive farming still harms the environment to an alarming extent, according to a study conducted by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). The use of pesticides and fertilisers as well as intensive animal husbandry, have a negative impact on humans and nature, the 40-page document indicates.
“Over the last 30 years, innovation and technical progress in most sectors has led to great successes in reducing the amount of substance that reaches the environment. But agriculture emissions show only marginal improvements,” the study’s authors write.
Agriculture the second largest producer of greenhouse gases
One of the most controversial issues concerns greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the researchers, the use of moors and clear-cutting for agriculture, as well as fertilisers, soil cultivation and animal husbandry produce a high level of emissions that impact the climate.
In 2012, agriculture-related emissions were around 70 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – about 7.5% of the year’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This means that after industry, which made up 84%, agriculture was the second largest emitter in Germany.
Biodiversity is also threatened by intensive farming. Agriculture burdens the environment with nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals. Broad-spectrum pesticides not only wipe out parasites, but also kill other beneficial insects.
As a result, this has adverse effects on birds and other mammals, who lose their food resources. The unfortunate result is that instead of realising initial plans to stop and reverse the trend of species loss by 2010, more and more species are disappearing from the agrarian landscape.
Nitrogen emissions exceed government’s target values
The authors write that excessive nitrogen emissions are still alarmingly high, with 60% of nitrogen emissions originating from agriculture.
Still, the country’s nitrogen surplus has been stagnating at a high level for years. At an average of 97 kg per hectare, it exceeds the German government’s target value within the sustainability strategy by almost 20 kg per hectare.
As a result, agriculture, with a share of 57%, is the nation’s largest source of nitrogen emissions into the environment.
While the European Commission is currently working on a directive to further reduce nitrogen emissions, Germany has not yet complied with the existing Nitrates Directive from 1991.