Just a few millions could solve the problem of accruing manure, which sustains eutrophication in the Archipelago Sea – including this measure in EU environmental compensations is key

The root cause of the high nutrient load from agriculture and the poor status of the Archipelago Sea is being tackled in Southwest Finland, in the John Nurminen Foundation’s Manure Recycling project. On the national level, the whole problem of manure accruing from pig and poultry farming could be solved with an annual manure phosphorus transportation compensation of only a few million euros, included e.g. in the EU environmental compensation system.

Because of past fertilizer use in the fields of Southwest Finland and Satakunta, in particular, a lot of phosphorus has accrued on the fields during past decades. Since animal farming is concentrated in certain regions, this maintains a high phosphorus content in fields, and leads to nutrient runoff to the waterways and the Baltic Sea. Individual farmers should not, however, bear the blame, as the load from agriculture is a major structural problem.

“Agriculture is responsible for approximately 70% of the total phosphorus load with a human origin that ends up in the Baltic Sea; in the Archipelago Sea catchment area, the figure is 87%. In the follow-up period of 1995 to 2019, the nutrient load from agriculture to the Archipelago Sea has not diminished at all. It seems that in terms of eutrophication, the marine area will not reach a good status by 2027, which is the current target year. Instead of accruing the phosphorus reserves in the soil, we should be reducing them. We need to act fast and deploy efficient measures also because of the fact that climate warming can cause an increase in the load”, says Seppo Knuuttila, Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute.

At the Heikkilä farm in Rusko, the problem of manure from animal farming is being solved with efficient manure treatment, and by transporting the manure and putting it to better use in Humppila, 80 km away. The manure transportations between Rusko and Humppila are a part of the John Nurminen Foundation’s Manure Recycling project. The goal of the project is to improve the regional nutrient balance of food production by supporting the transportation of dried manure from the animal farms by the coast to the crop farms in nutrient-deficient areas.

During the Manure Recycling project, the Foundation supports the transportation of manure phosphorus between the regions. At the same time, we will collect information on what kind of incentives would be required to direct more of the manure also in the future to the locations where it is most needed. The 2021 project participants are two pig farms and seven crop farms, chosen through a competitive bidding process based on cost efficient manure phosphorus transportation.

Typically, the manure has been spread on the nearby fields next to the animal farms, leading to a permanent excess of nutrients in these fields, far surpassing the needs of the plants.  When transported to nutrient-deficient regions, manure phosphorus could replace industrial phosphorus fertilizers. Prior to transportation, however, the solid fraction, rich in phosphorus, has to be separated from the manure, as liquid manure contains a lot of water, and cannot be transported cost-efficiently.

Current subsidy system does not support solutions to the manure problem

At the Heikkilä farm in Rusko, a sedimentation method for separating solid and liquid fractions is in use. “The sedimentation method is based on gravity, and pumping the liquid fraction from one pool to another. The method is very energy-efficient, and requires no chemicals. With the sedimentation method, manure phosphorus can be made more dense than with traditional separation, making its transportation cost-efficient”, says Timo Heikkilä, owner of the farm.

In order to make manure phosphorus recycling a common practice, we need political will and financial incentives. The subsidy for recycling nutrients and organic matter, included in the current environmental subsidy system, requires at least 15 m³ of manure to be spread per hectare of field. This does not promote nutrient separation or the efficient treatment of manure.

“We already have the technical solutions for treating manure. When treated efficiently, the phosphorus content of dried manure continues to be too big for it to be spread in the fields in the amounts required by the subsidy.  The current subsidy system does not solve the manure problem, and it should be revamped to provide compensation for the transfer of efficiently separated manure phosphorus in particular. Livestock farms also need support for the deployment of efficient manure treatment methods”, Heikkilä comments.

“A €2-3 million subsidy would be enough to solve the manure phosphorus transportation issue for all the livestock farms in Finland. Environmental subsidies are paid out to crop farmers and livestock farms in the amount of more than €200 million annually, so with this scale of things, we are talking only of a small correction in the allocation of the subsidies”, Heikkilä continues.

From pilot to large-scale solution

The John Nurminen Foundation’s Manure Recycling Project was launched in the spring of 2020 with a two-farm pilot, where manure phosphorus was transferred between the farms, located in the Satakunta and Pirkanmaa regions. The project was expanded in 2021, and it will continue until the end of 2022.

“The project has brought to light the reasons why the problem of manure accumulation has not been solved in Finland until now. Mineral fertilizers are clearly cheaper than manure-based fertilizers: this is due, amongst other things, to the transportation costs of manure. Often, further processing is proposed as the solution, but this would only make the cost gap even wider. There will be no demand for manure phosphorus without intervention from society”, says Marjukka Porvari, head of the John Nurminen Foundation’s Clean Baltic Sea projects.

Manure accumulation is not only a problem of Southwest Finland and the Archipelago Sea. The separation of livestock and crop farming and the rising sizes of livestock farms lead to regional accumulations of manure all over the world.

“The problem of manure accumulation should be immediately solved in Finland by including compensation for manure phosphorus transportation in EU’s new environmental subsidy system. Since bringing the phosphorus levels of fields down is slow, we have to also ensure environmental subsidy funding for gypsum treatment, which is a fast-acting measure”, says Annamari Arrakoski-Engardt, Managing Director of the John Nurminen Foundation.

More information:

Marjukka Porvari

Project Director, Clean Baltic Sea projects
John Nurminen Foundation
marjukka.porvari (at) jnfoundation.fi
Tel. +358 (0)41 549 1535

Timo Heikkilä

Heikkilä Farm
timo (at) heikkilantila.com
Tel. +358 (0) 500 822 963


John Nurminen Foundation – Baltic Sea protection and marine culture

Founded in 1992, the purpose of the John Nurminen Foundation is to save the Baltic Sea and its heritage for future generations. The Foundation has been awarded for its work as a communicator of information and producer of marine content. The goal of the Foundation’s Clean Baltic Sea projects is to improve the condition of the Baltic Sea with tangible measures that will reduce the load and environmental risks directed towards the sea. The work is steered by measurable results and impact. johnnurmisensaatio.fi/en/

Loading manure for transportation. Photo: Tara Jaakkola