Nitrogen experts are progressing in delivering on the first mandate of the EU Nitrogen Expert Panel of developing an indicator for the utilization of nitrogen in food systems like Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE). The second session of the EU NEP for this year took place from the 24th until the 25th of November 2016 in Madrid and took stock of the latest work stream. Regional case-studies will be done in the first half of 2017 in the different European countries and farm types in order to test the NUE concepts and a draft guidance document for assessing NUE at farm level.
This process is coordinated by Max Schulman, an active grower from Finland representing the farming sector, with the support of Fertilizers Europe. The case studies will contribute in increasing the understanding of the NUE indicator among farmers and to make it usable for policy-makers, especially ahead of the Common Agricultural Policy post 2020, as well as for marketing purposes. The first results of the case studies will be presented at the next meeting of the EU Nitrogen Expert Panel in June 2017, the final report to be adopted in November 2017.
In addition, the EU NEP members gathered in Madrid and approved the report of Jan Willem Erisman and colleagues. Authors show that the NUE concept developed by the panel for agricultural systems can also be applied to food systems at country level, enabling them to make comparisons between countries.
An indicator of NUE of food systems at national level provides an insight about overall resource use efficiency, and indirectly environmental sustainability. It remains really challenging to estimate the NUE of food systems accurately. This is why the report of Prof. Erisman and colleagues can be seen as a major step forward, but further work is needed in order to test the methodology, since NUE is a reasonable proxy for tracking protein.