The Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) has been produced to target the contamination of both surface and ground waters from nitrates derived from both organic and inorganic fertilisers. A number of social, economical and environmental benefits can be derived form the implementation of this program. In order to ensure that this program is successful in achieving the objectives of the NAP a strategy plan has been made which will be backed by
The Nitrates Action Program (NAP) has one main goal, which is reducing the impact of nitrates on water sources and preventing further contamination of water sources by nitrates. Agriculture is a direct contributor to nitrate levels and the main point of origin in agriculture is via livestock manures and other fertilisers.
By implementing the NAP numerous benefits can be gained on several levels, primarily the beneficial impact in reference to the environmental aspect. The implementation of the programme will not only succeed in reducing the impact of nitrates present in the environment but should also have several other indirect but highly beneficial effects; such as reducing nitrous oxide (greenhouse gas) and ammonia (ozone pollutant) levels.
In general the effects of fertilizers can be just as damaging as they can be beneficial. Fertilizers hang in a balance by which they can go either way and in our world today with an ever growing population they are required in order to meet the demands of society and maintain some level of food security. If fertilizer usage was ceased all together the agricultural sector would not be able to support the requirements of society therefore they are a necessity which has to be controlled.
Environmental Impact of Nitrates
Through the implementation of NAP numerous environmental aspects benefit. Below are several main problem areas associated with the use of fertilizers. Through the NAP the environmental impact of fertilizers will be greatly reduced, and can be determined by a carbon footprint calculation. A carbon footprint is a means of measuring the impact an individual or business has on the production / release of green house gasses.
By implementing the NAP the carbon footprint of farms utilizing fertilizers has the potential to be greatly reduced, as emissions released by fertilizers are set to decrease (due to the fact that farmers will potentially be utilizing smaller amounts of fertilizers). Another factor being that energy costs to transport said fertilizers should also decrease. Both fertilizers and fuel consumption are primary areas of concern in regards to the carbon footprint of farms.
Extensive use of fertilizers is one of the major agricultural contributors directly to greenhouse gas emissions. Excess fertilizer usage results in the release of nitrous oxide which is approximately 300 times more potent to the global warming effect then carbon dioxide.
The control of fertilizers will have a direct impact on the amount of Green House Gasses released into the atmosphere, and will further reduce the impact fertilizers have on the environment indirectly by reducing the need to transport copious amounts of fertilizers hence reducing transport related emissions.
In implementing the NAP, the rate at which soil acidification occurs will be greatly reduced. Soil acidification is a natural process which occurs over long periods of time and results in the decrease in soil pH. The problem of acidification will be further enhanced by leaching as nitrates are removed from the root zone of crops, and as acidity levels increase certain nutrients will become less available to crops and other nutrients will be present in the soil at toxic levels.
However due to the amount of ammonium based nitrogen fertilizers utilized by the agricultural industry, (the primary factor being that said fertilizers are applied in excess of crop requirements) the rate that acidification is occurring at is rapidly increasing. Soils most at risk are those which are already acidic with a pH under 7, locally speaking the Maltese islands have a mean soil pH range from 7.3 - 8 (MALSIS) however this does not mean that long term abuse of fertilizers will not impact local soils as much as already acidic soils.
Leaching is a major environmental concern as it does not just present a problem to soil acidity, by removing vital nutrients from the root zone site, but also by contaminating groundwater by dissolving chemicals and leaching them into the groundwater. Leaching occurs due to excessive and irresponsible irrigation practices and naturally from rain.
Leaching furthermore leads to great risks in consuming groundwater and can result in nitrate poisoning in both humans and livestock if water is consumed untreated (further health risks are listed under social aspects). Leaching can also result in eutrophication.
Eutrophication is the result of chemical nutrients entering into an ecosystem via a water source, in agriculture it occurs when nitrates from ammonium based nitrogen fertilizers are leached into the ground water.
There are three primary concerns in regard to eutrophication, these are: decreased biodiversity, impact of toxins on ecosystems, alterations in species composition and dominance.
There are several social benefits of implementing the NAP and these are primarily in regards to human health. Although fertilizer usage cannot be eliminated completely due to the dependency of global food security on accelerated production systems providing sufficient amounts of resources to meet demands, they can be controlled.
By implementing a system which allows control over the methods of application and the amount of application a balance can be reached by which the use of fertilizers are beneficial instead of detrimental.
The effect that nitrates have on the human body are as of yet not well known however studies claim a multitude of conditions ranging from mild to potentially lethal all linked to an excess amount of nitrates in food and water sources.
Although there are already controls over water intended for human consumption and usage, through the implementation of the NAP stricter measures will be enforced ensuring that the risk of nitrate poisoning in humans is minimized as much as possible.
An excess of nitrates in the drinking water (and occasionally in livestock feed sources) can lead to numerous health conditions resulting in acute toxicity in three phases: gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and central nervous. It can also lead to reduced milk yield in dairy cattle.
Livestock most susceptible to nitrate poisoning is ruminants, due to the fact that the bacteria present in the rumen converts nitrate to nitrites, whereas other livestock (swine and poultry) remove nitrate from their system through urine.
The level of nitrates which is considered toxic to livestock is as of yet undetermined due to the fact that, it is based on the rate at which the substance is consumed, and presents itself in the form of several symptoms ranging from abdominal pain, diarrhoea, muscular weakness or poor coordination.
It is particularly dangerous to pregnant animals which can lead them to abort due to a condition known as foetal anoxia, and has the same effect on young calves as it does on human infants.
From a financial perspective implementing a fertilizer plan and following the measures implied in the NAP, farmers can save in operating costs.
As there is a general misconception in the farming community, in regards to the fact that the majority of farmers automatically assume that the more fertilizers they utilize the greater the crop out put, however through educating the farmers they can learn how to be cost efficient and environmentally sustainable.
The economical benefit to be gained from implementing NAP is the primary incentive for farmers to abide by measures, and this program in order to be successful requires the full cooperation from the farming community.
|Product ||Surplus Manure|
|Surplus Fertilizer |
(21% ammonium sulphate)
Total extra costs:
Manure & 21% ammonium sulphate
Total extra costs:
Manure & NPK 20-20-20
| || || || || || || || |
| Tomato|| 1000|| €25.00|| 29|| €42.81|| 239.54|| €83.00|| €264.54|
| Watermelon|| 4175|| €104.00|| 25.4|| €37.50|| 209.804|| €154.80|| €313.80|
| Melons|| 2367|| €59.18|| 19|| €28.05|| 156.94|| €97.18 || €216.12|
| Marrows|| 1264|| €31.60|| 21.6|| €31.89|| 178.416|| €74.80|| €210.02|
Legal basis/legal reference
This Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) contains the second Action Programme for Malta pursuant to Article 10 and Annex 5 of Council Directive 91/676 of 12 December 1991, the Nitrates Directive, which addresses the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.
The Nitrates Directive was transposed in Maltese legislation under the Environment and Development Planning Act, Chapter 504 of the Laws of Malta, (formerly the Environment Protection Act, Chapter 435), through the Protection of Waters against Pollution Caused by Nitrates from Agricultural Sources Regulations (Subsidiary Legislation 504.43). This legislation entered into force on the 14th January 2003. The whole of the Maltese Islands were designated a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) through an amendment to the abovementioned Regulations effected by virtue of Legal Notice 233 of 2004.
Contact officer(s) details (name, grade and office number)
Nitrates Action Unit
Ms Maria Muscat
Telephone: +356 2292 4303