Farmers' manure manoeuvres uncovered

Danish farmers' side step environmental provision by smuggling fertiliser across the border from Germany to maximise crop yields despite environmental provisions

Danish farmers are treading around an action plan for aquatic environments by illegally importing manure from neighbouring Germany. Peter Gæmelke, head of Danish Agriculture, said the increase in illegal imports is due to a tightening of Danish environmental rules that are putting farmers in a bind.

'Our crops are crying for more fertilisation and some farmers can't resist the temptation to pick up an extra load in Germany. Danish truck drivers are contributing to the traffic, which I don't condone,' said Peter Gæmelke.

Rumours circulate over how the illegal import is taking place. The most widespread include stories of farmers filling trucks with cereal grains, driving to Germany and exchanging them for a load of manure, as such trades seldom leave a paper trail.

When invoices are written out, they are often for lime, feed, seed grains or even cement, according to daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten, making it extremely difficult for Danish authorities to crack down on the practice.

When farmers buy manure in Denmark it is automatically reported to the Danish Plant Directorate, which controll farmer's use of fertilisers.

By disguising manure imports farmers can get around special environmental provisions in the country. The provisions were introduced to cut down on nitrogen emissions, which in turn, reduce oxygen depletion in waterways.

According to the rules, farmers can use a maximum of 85 percent of what would be economically optimal to spread across fields. That means lower yields and poorer quality harvest, unless farmers choose to smuggle extra fertiliser in to secure a better harvest.

In Germany, for example, farmers are permitted to use the full 100 percent of what is economically viable and in turn yield crops of a higher quality.

'It's very frustrating to see crops suffer because of a lack of fertiliser. We all take pride in our work and want to produce a quality product,' said Gæmelke. 'It doesn't excuse the illegal importation of manure but explains why some people are tempted to do it.'

Estimates place the loss of revenue from the special environmental provisions at some DKK 700 million.

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