Within the constraints of the EU Nitrates and Water Framework Directives, controlling and managing nutrient transfers to water from excessive nutrient use on agricultural land is a significant environmental policy challenge. This paper assesses whether there is room to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus applications by exploring the extent of their over application by land managers using data envelopment analysis methodology. This paper concentrates on specialist dairy and tillage farms stratified by land use potential as these agricultural systems are the most intensive and may pose the greatest risk in terms of managing nutrient transfer from agricultural land to water courses. Results demonstrate considerable inefficiency in the utilisation of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers across these systems. Average over application on dairy farms compared to efficient benchmark farms ranged from 25.9 to 33.3 kg Nitrogen ha-1 and 3.0 to 3.04 kg Phosphorus ha-1. Results for specialist tillage farms indicate over application of 21.2 kg N ha-1 and 3.3 kg P ha-1in 2008. Average, potential cost savings on chemical fertilisers across all systems on average ranged from €36 ha-1 to €50 ha-1. Additionally, potential cost savings on imported feeds of €68 to €113 per livestock units were indicated on dairy farms. Such reductions have the potential to deliver a double dividend by reducing the risk of nutrient leaching and diffuse pollution from agricultural land while improving economic margins at farm level.


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