Nitrogen cycling in a hypothetical scenario of generalised organic agriculture in the Seine, Somme and Scheldt watersheds

Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsThieu, V, Billen, G, Garnier, J, Beno\^ıt, M
JournalRegional Environmental Change

Nitrogen contamination of ground and surface water in the Seine, Somme and Scheldt watersheds, as well as in the receiving coastal marine zones, results in severe ecological problems. Previous modelling results showed that the implementation of classical management measures involving improvement of wastewater purification and good agricultural practices are not sufficient to obviate these problems. A more radical scenario was therefore established, consisting of a generalised shift to organic agriculture of all agricultural areas in the three basins, with the additional constraints that livestock is fed only on local fodder production. This scenario involves an increased livestock density in the Seine and Somme and a decrease in livestock in the Scheldt basin. It leads to a significant reduction of agricultural production that finally brings the three basins closer to autotrophy/heterotrophy equilibrium. Nitrate concentrations in most of the drainage network would drop below the threshold of 2.25 mgN/l in the most optimistic hypothesis. The excess of nitrogen over silica (with respect to the requirements of marine diatoms) delivered into the coastal zones would be decreased by a factor from 2 to 5, thus strongly reducing, but not entirely eliminating the potential for marine eutrophication.