Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2002Peer reviewed

Possibilities for reducing nitrate leaching from agricultural land

Kirchmann, Holger; Johnston, J.; Bergström, Lars


Agricultural soil is a contributor of nitrate to natural waters. High nitrate levels in water leached from soils are related to high nitrate concentrations in drinking water, and excess levels change the ecological balance of rivers and lakes. In this paper, sound solutions to the major environmental issue of limiting nitrate leaching by modifying agricultural practices are discussed. The causes of nitrate leaching from agricultural land are briefly explained and existing measures for the reduction of nitrate losses are described, analyzed and evaluated. Reduction of nutrient leaching is not a question of organic or conventional farming, but rather of the introduction and use of appropriate countermeasures. We propose the following guiding principles to minimize leaching from agricultural soils. To some extent these principles require a new way of thinking; i) environmental indexing of fields and consideration of spatial variability within fields in relation to their contribution to leaching losses within a catchment; ii) reduction of nitrogen inputs to soil to levels slightly below those expected to give the optimum yield by applying less nitrogen fertilizer and by a further reduction in animal density; and iii) use of a range of counter-measures (catch crops, minimum tillage, control of biological processes, etc.) depending on how sensitive the farming system, soil and climate are to the risk of nitrate leaching.

Published in

AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment
2002, Volume: 31, number: 5, pages: 404-408

      SLU Authors

      • Bergström, Lars

        • Department of Soil Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Soil Science

      Publication identifier


      Permanent link to this page (URI)