Modern stables' nitrogen emissions higher than expected: study

Cows in a stable
Cows in a stable. (Photo: vpardi/DepositPhotos)

Modern cattle stables emit more nitrogen than was assumed in calculation models, Statistics Netherlands found in a study that analyzed manure samples to compare the nitrogen content with the values in an international calculation model. The researchers found a lower than expected amount of nitrogen in the manure, which could mean that the nitrogen was released into the air, Trouw reports.

This could mean that the nitrogen released into the air is underestimated, according to the researchers. The higher emissions seem to apply to all types of stables, including environmentally friendly varieties. Statistics Netherlands emphasized that this is an experimental study based on existing figures and says that emissions must be further investigated, according to NOS.

"The report makes it clear that low emission stable systems produce very few results", researcher Nico Ogink of Wageningen University said to Trouw. Another researcher, Oene Oenema, warned against putting too much faith in techniques that claim to be good for the environment.

Farmers' organization LTO Nederland told the newspaper that they are studying the results and will not comment at this time.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, which commissioned this study, said that more nitrogen released into the air is not necessarily only negative. "More nitrogen in the air means less nitrogen in the soil. That is positive." A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten told NOS that not all "gaseous losses" are bad for the environment. Nitrogen can be emitted into the air as ammonia, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen gas, and nitrogen oxide. According to the Ministry, this study does not provide a definitive answer about the type of gas emitted. Further research is needed. 

Livestock farmer Stefan Bekkers is baffled by the results of this study, he said to NOS. His farm, with 1,400 veal calves, has an air washer, through which air is extracted from the stable and purified. "The system reduces 95 percent of all ammonia and then the air is blown out purified", he said to the broadcaster. There are sensors on the device and data loggers that constantly monitor the air washer, he said. "That information is checked by the province and the municipality. If it does not do what it's supposed to, they can revoke our permit."

According to Bekkers, the last set of random checks found no ammonia after the air washer. "Then Trouw writes that those things don't work. That proves once again that the people who write that article have absolutely no knowledge of what they are doing. They don't know at all what is happening in livestock farming."

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