Fine tuning water quality regulations in agriculture to soil differences

J. Bouma, B.J. Van Alphen, J.J. Stoorvogel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Groundwater quality has been defined in terms of threshold values for nitrate (50 mg l−1) and pesticides (0.1 μg l−1 active substance). Variability in space and time, and cost and safety considerations have made it unattractive to verify water quality by repeated measurements. Proxy values have, therefore, been defined to characterise water quality. For nitrate, maximum allowable fertilisation rates have been specified and farmers have to apply the MINAS book-keeping system to keep track of their N-flows. For pesticides, listing of allowed pesticides functions as another proxy quality measure. Field tests and simulations on a Dutch farm demonstrated that water quality assessment using these proxy values does not correspond with direct assessment based on measurements and a comparison with the threshold values, which represent the true standard. A second problem is the generic character of the proxy methods, which do not reflect quite different nitrate and pesticide dynamics in different types of soil. These problems make the proxy approach quite problematic. We, therefore, propose the systematic introduction of information technology to be used for deriving soil-specific management practices that do not lead to an increase of the thresholds. Existing techniques for precision agriculture can be used, and the current registration of all parcels in The Netherlands in a geographical information system, including occurrence of different soil types, will be quite helpful. Such an information system on internet will allow better control than the current generic proxy systems and is likely to be quite motivating to farmers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-120
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2002
Externally publishedYes


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