Edition 2021

Foto omschrijving: Aerial image of a cattle farm in Someren, Noord-Brabant province

How much nitrogen is emitted at livestock farms?

In 2020, nitrogen excretion in livestock manure was 489 million kg. This is 15 million kg below the nitrogen oxides emission ceiling of 504.4 million kg.

Meatand eggsMisc.MeatMeatand milkManure15663569441316490244100971472691018FarmlandPigsCowsChickens287OtherRoughageHow much nitrogen is emitted at livestock farms?Concentrates410mln kg*2019*

Dairy livestock excretions of nitrogen stood at 286.5 million kg, exceeding the ceiling of 281.8 million kg for this sector. Nitrogen excretion on pig farms came to 91.8 million kg, well below the ceiling of 99.1 million kg. In the poultry sector as well, excretion was lower at 54.7 million kg than the imposed ceiling of 60.3 million kg.

Higher nitrogen use efficiency

Minerals in livestock feed, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are taken in by cattle only to a limited extent. This is referred to as the use efficiency. Part of the nitrogen ends up in meat, milk or eggs. What animals do not absorb disappears largely with the manure in the soil or the air. In the period from early 1990s to 2001, nitrogen use efficiency rose from 21 to 29 percent; it has barely increased since then.

Nitrogen use efficiency at livestock farms (%)
Cattle (meat, dairy) Pigs (meat) Poultry (meat, eggs) Other livestock
2000 19 35 41 10
2001 19 36 42 10
2002 20 37 42 11
2003 20 36 41 11
2004 21 38 40 13
2005 21 36 40 12
2006 22 35 39 13
2007 22 36 40 13
2008 22 36 39 13
2009 23 36 39 13
2010 23 37 39 13
2011 23 37 39 13
2012 24 37 41 13
2013 24 37 41 13
2014 23 38 42 13
2015 23 39 43 13
2016 24 39 43 15
2017 23 39 44 14
2018 23 40 42 15
2019 24 40 42 15

Not all animals convert nitrogen equally efficiently. Nitrogen use efficiency was highest in poultry, at 42 percent. In the case of pigs, use efficiency is 40 percent and in beef cattle only 24 percent. Use efficiency rates have improved very moderately since 2000. Beef cattle use efficiency was still 19 percent in 2000; in pigs this was 35 percent and in poultry 41 percent.

Nitrogen use efficiency depends on composition of feed

Cattle feed consists of concentrates and roughage. The amount of nitrogen in concentrates was 410 million kg in 2019, i.e. over 2 percent less than in the previous year. Grass, hay and silage maize contained 269 million kg of nitrogen, slightly less than in 2018.

The supply of nitrogen to livestock farms depends on both the size of the herd and the ratio of concentrates to roughage. For example, a kilo of grass or a kilo of concentrates contains up to almost three times as much nitrogen as a kilo of silage maize. If less maize is harvested, due to a disappointing harvest or a smaller maize acreage, as was the case in 2018, and the animals are fed more concentrates and grass, the roughage will contain more nitrogen.

Nitrogen levels in concentrates and roughage at livestock farms (million kg)
Jaar Concentrates for cattle Concentrates for pigs Concentrates for poultry Concentrates other livestock Roughage for cattle Roughage for other livestock
2000 130 186 106 7 291 23
2010 129 168 107 7 257 17
2019 147 156 97 10 269 18

Less nitrogen lost

According to the nutrient budget, 697 million kg of nitrogen were supplied to livestock farms in 2019. Of this, 207 million kg was converted into animal products. The unused nitrogen – 490 million kg or 70 percent of all nitrogen supplied – disappeared into plants (378 million kg), the soil, the air, outside agriculture or they were part of inventory movements. In 2000, this was still 549 million kg, or 74 percent of the used nitrogen. The decrease is partly due to the more efficient application of fertiliser in arable farming. In addition, less nitrogen volatilised from animal houses and manure storage. The fact that less nitrogen was volatilised is also the result of a stricter manure policy which prescribed use standards for nitrogen.

The questions

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