Nitrogen gain in low-emission stables often turns out to be considerably overestimated

Low-emission barns, intended to limit livestock emissions, often yield much less nitrogen gain than is claimed on paper. This outcome of research by Wageningen University was cited by RIVM this week in a technical briefing of the House of Representatives. Until then, the research results had not been widely shared.

The government is trying to encourage farmers to build low-emission stables. By separating manure and urine, among other things, less of the nitrogen compound is released in these stables. Because of this nitrogen saving, governments provide subsidies to farmers to switch to low-emission stables. In the province of Noord-Brabant, the new systems will even be mandatory from 2024. The stables are not fully subsidized: farmers have to pay for the majority themselves.

Switching to low-emission housing systems is also the almost only remaining opportunity for livestock farmers to expand. Since the drastic PAS pronunciation of the Council of State in 2019, the granting of permits is very difficult. By using a cleaner barn, more animals can still be kept and the emissions remain the same on paper.

Difference Between Theory and Practice

Emission figures from Wageningen University now show that modern low-emission barns in practice emit on average twice as much ammonia as is claimed on paper. The actual emissions of these housing systems range from 1.1 times as much ammonia emissions in the least deviating case to 3.8 times as much emissions in the most deviating case.

The permits issued by governments for the housing systems are not based on data from RIVM and Wageningen University, RIVM explained to MPs on Wednesday. That explains the big difference between the nitrogen savings in theory and practice.


Doubts about the actual emissions from low-emission barns have previously played a role in several lawsuits. Courts overturned several licenses for livestock farmers, because the nitrogen savings from the barn systems are insufficiently clear. This summer, the Council of State will consider a number of appeals. Johan Vollenbroek of environmental organization MOB is one of the people who started the case. He wants to submit the new insights to the highest administrative court.

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Farmers’ organization LTO is concerned about the uncertainty caused by the lawsuits. “As a farmer, you trust that a scientifically researched, government-approved system functions within the margins and gives you the legal certainty you deserve. That is allowed, given the great uncertainty that people are in and the upcoming government investment of 25 billion. “

A spokesperson for the Minister for Nature and Nitrogen said in a response that the list of low-emission stable techniques is being improved. “Practical trials” are planned for this.

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