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Ministry of the Environment: Pollution of agricultural origin needs to be reversed to a declining trend

30.03.2015

Ministry of the Environment met today with the Ministry of Agriculture and representatives of the farmers to discuss how to reduce the pollution of agricultural origin.

"We are concerned with this as monitoring data shows that the influence of agriculture on aquatic environment has increased and will most probably increase also in the future. Indeed, almost by all rivers flowing into the sea, year to year more and more nitrogen compounds are carried into the sea, though for improving the situation the quantities should be reduced. For example the concentration of nitric ions has increased, occasionally exceeding the level of safety," said Rene Reisner, head of the Water Department of the Ministry of the Environment.

The main subject of the meeting evolved mostly around the new planned requirements and principles for reducing the pollution of agricultural origin in the future.

"For decreasing the nitrogen burden, we have suggested increasing storage capacities for manure and building additional manure storages, in order to avoid application of extra manure in the fields when there is a danger of it being quickly washed into bodies of water by rain or snow. In addition we have suggested shortening the period of application of manure in the fields to 15th October. Today application of manure in the fields is allowed until 1st December, but as growth of cultures slows down and then stops already in October, the manure applied in the field is directly washed into bodies of water by autumn rain and melting snow," Reisner explains the reasons behind some of the changes.

Reisner also added it being clear that application of all additional measures requires additional expenses which in turn may aggravate the financial situation of farmers. Therefore the application of additional measures should be done in phases and with the assistance of relevant financial support, including the funds of the Rural Development Programme.

The excessive phosphorus and nitrogen entering the aquatic environment cause problems in rivers and lakes as well as in the sea, making water excessively rich in nutrients which in turn causes accelerated growth of the plants, including algae. Abundance of plants has a serious effect on living conditions of the fish and may lead to their death, which due to lack of oxygen has already happened for example in Lake Peipsi. In order to improve the situation in the Baltic Sea, Estonia's share is to immediately reduce the use of nitrogen by 1,800 tons and phosphorus by 320 tons.

Phosphorus and nitrogen enter waters through various sources, for example through industrial enterprises, waste-water treatment plants, agriculture, forestry and fish farming. However greater attention should be paid to agriculture: According to the estimation of the Tallinn University of Technology, around 72% of nitrogen and 52% of phosphorus of man-made pollutants in our water bodies are of agricultural origin.

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