Seven years of agri-environment schemes: what benefits for Bavarian groundwater quality?

Papers - 08/09/2022

Farmed environments are essential links in the food production chain. Not only do they offer sustenance to a growing human population, but these areas also have a high nature value, they help improve genetic diversity and protect agro-ecosystems.

Seven years of agri-environment schemes: what benefits for Bavarian groundwater quality?

However, there’s a flip side. Agriculture is also one of the main causes of many environmental threats including climate change, biodiversity loss, soil erosion, and water pollution. Despite the global effort to balance food production with environmental protection, agriculture remains the largest global factor associated with health issues and resource degradation. Among the global action to reduce these negative impacts we find agri-environment schemes (AES).

AES are voluntary contracts under which farmers receive payments for adopting specific management practises or for meeting a certain environmental goal. They help farmers manage their land in a way that benefits both economy and environment. AES are part of the European Common Agricultural Policy and one of their main objectives is the preservation of groundwater quality.

Groundwater and drinking water contamination is one of the most harmful drawbacks of over- fertilisation. The excess of nutrients, such as nitrates, that cannot be absorbed by the crops is washed away and ends up in the water bodies. This  pollutes rivers and lakes and contaminates drinking water reservoirs.

In this paper, D. Tzemi and P. Mennig analyse the effects of different agri-environment schemes run in Bavaria, Germany, between 2007 and 2014. The main aim of these AES was to improve the quality of groundwater. Bavaria was chosen as a case study because of the high nitrate concentrations in its groundwater.

Tzemi and Mennig’s study provides the first spatially explicit analysis of the effect of agri-environmental payments on groundwater quality in Bavaria. The authors discovered that not all AES have a positive correlation with groundwater quality improvement. Some schemes such as those focusing on grassland management have a negative effect on nitrogen concentrations in soil and groundwater, while AES focusing on crop management, organic farming and preservation of cultural landscape did not show a significant effect. On the other hand, AES targeting cereals and forage had a positive effect on nitrate concentration.

Read the paper to understand in depth the effects of different AES on groundwater quality in the case study area of Bavaria region, in Germany.

Tzemi D., Mennig P. Effect of agri-environment schemes (2007–2014) on groundwater quality; spatial analysis in Bavaria, Germany. Journal of Rural Studies, 2022, 91, 136- 147.