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A survey of stakeholders and farmers in Germany shows difficulties of uptake of fertiliser eco-innovations

A survey of fertiliser producers, distributers and farmers in Germany assessed knowledge level, attitudes and obstacles to uptake of three fertiliser eco-innovations: stabilised nitrogen fertilisers, fertigation, fertilisers from secondary raw materials.

An initial series of interviews (8, fertiliser producers and distributors) and data analysis identified a number of eco-innovations in fertiliser use in Germany: GMOs, strip-till, in field precision fertilisation, foliar fertilisation, use of biogas digestates, stabilised nitrogen fertilisers, fertigation, fertilisers from secondary raw materials. The first four were excluded because considered controversial in society or because requiring change of the full agricultural system.

Stabilised nitrogen fertilisers cover three different systems: coatings which lead to controlled nitrogen release, use of a less soluble form of nitrogen and addition of a nitrogen mineralisation inhibiting chemical. SNFs have been shown to reduce nitrogen leaching and atmospheric emissions and to improve nitrogen use efficiency, but to date only represent 8-10% of N fertilisers used in Europe and 1% in the USA.

Fertigation is the application of soluble fertiliser via irrigation water. Because the nutrients are soluble and immediately plant available, application can be precisely adapted to plant needs.

The second series of interviews covered 57 fertiliser producers (12), distributers (34) and farmers (11), corresponding to replies received from a total of 250 questionnaires sent out.

Results show that farmers are the group most sceptical towards fertiliser eco-innovation, whereas the fertiliser supply chain actors mostly take environmental aspects into account in their business strategy. Both farmers and suppliers however consider that legal regulations, in particular through the Common Agricultural Policy, will drive environmental requirements and eco-innovation.

Whereas stabilised nitrogen fertilisers are well known by both farmers and the supply chain, fertilisers from secondary raw materials are known by around 60% of fertiliser manufacturers and only 30% of distributers and farmers.

The authors note that a key obstacle to eco-innovation uptake by farmers is cost. They conclude that eco-innovation is currently motivated by technological push rather than market pull, but that this could be improved by: further implementation of regulatory requirements (for example limitation of farm nutrient surpluses), promoting market pull from consumers and supermarkets (eco-marketing) and improving farmers’ knowledge through information.

European Commission Science for Environment Policy, issue 477, 18/11/2016 “How to increase the uptake of environmentally friendly fertilisers in Germany” and “Drivers for the Adoption of Eco-Innovations in the German Fertilizer Supply Chain”, Sustainability, 8(8): 682, 2016

K Hasler (1), H.-W. Olfs (1), O. Omta (2), S. Bröring (3). 1 = University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück, Am Krümpel 31, Osnabrück 49090, Germany; 2 = Management Studies Group, Wageningen University, Hollandseweg 1,Wageningen 6706 KN, The Netherlands; 3 = Institute for Food and Resource Economics, University of Bonn, Meckenheimer Allee 174, Bonn 53115, Germany

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