The Challenge of Nutrient Losses – Agroscope Supports Agricultural Practitioners

Bern, 28.11.2023 - Nutrient losses are a key topic for Swiss agriculture. Current Agroscope figures show that nitrogen and phosphorus losses have decreased by around 10 per cent since 2014/2016. Despite this, further efforts are needed to achieve the targets set by policy-makers. With a new series of factsheets, Agroscope is helping farmers improve nutrient efficiency and thereby reduce nutrient losses to the maximum extent possible.

Phosphorus and nitrogen are lost in different forms into the agricultural system via soil, air and water. There are two adverse consequences to this. Firstly, farmers must supply or buy-in new nutrients. Secondly, these losses are damaging for the environment. Policy-makers have therefore stipulated a reduction path for nutrient losses: over the next few years, nitrogen and phosphorus losses from agriculture must be substantially reduced – a major challenge for the Swiss agricultural sector.

Positive development

Since 1993, Agroscope has on behalf of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture compiled a national nutrient balance showing the trend of this losses over several decades. The most up-to-date figures show that since the period 2014/2016 both nitrogen and phosphorus losses have decreased by around 10%. The main reasons for this are lower volumes of imported feed, and in the case of nitrogen, lower mineral fertiliser use. Due to the sometimes-strong annual fluctuations it will be a few years before we see if this a stable development. Further efforts of all stakeholders will therefore be necessary to achieve the stipulated targets.

Knowledge in a nutshell for practitioners

Agroscope deals with the topic of nutrient flows in numerous projects. With the knowledge gained from these projects, the research institute aims to provide targeted support to farmers, extension and policy-makers to enable the efficient and effective use of nitrogen and phosphorus. To this end, Agroscope is summarising current scientific findings concerning the optimisation of nutrient cycles in new factsheets for practitioners. These factsheets highlight the benefits and drawbacks, tradeoffs and economic aspects of individual measures in a nutshell. The system approach that jointly considers both animal husbandry and plant production is key here, since uncoordinated individual measures in one area harbour the risk of losing the improvements achieved there in other areas.  

From A for agriculture to Z for zootechnics

The first factsheets show the wide variety of ways to optimise nutrient cycles. Certain measures in the sphere of fertilisation or feed can be implemented more quickly, and therefore make a speedier impact. An example of this is the Nmin method for determining the optimal fertilisation requirement. Other measures require more time and money, for example infrastructure modifications such conversions of barns. In the coming months, Agroscope will add to the new factsheet series ‘Principles for Optimising N and P Cycles’ on a regular basis. For ease of reference, the measures will be divided into different subject areas (cf. graphic). The factsheets can be found at

Working together to develop the agriculture and food sector

Agroscope will continue to develop new ways to reduce nutrient losses and calculate the effectiveness and implementability of these methods. The Experimental Stations, which have been in operation for three years now, play a key role here. There, researchers test and disseminate the developed measures together with agricultural practitioners. For example, in the Experimental Stations for Nutrient Flows in Sursee, Vegetable Production in Ins, and Smart Technologies in the Cantons of Thurgau and Schaffhausen, Agroscope conducts intensive research on nutrient cycles. By doing so, researchers, in co-creation with Cantons, farmers, extension and SMUs, are providing important findings for an agriculture and food sector with a promising future.

Address for enquiries

Agroscope Media Service
Phone +41 58 466 88 62