An expert opinion on behalf of the state farmers association sees numerous gaps in the measurement points. The state office rejects the criticism. But something should still happen.
The protests were not long ago: at the beginning of the year, farmers in Saxony took to the streets several times to protest against the tightening of the fertilizer ordinance. The question in the room was whether the too high levels of nitrates in the groundwater were the result of too much fertilizer. Rather, farmers had doubts about the values of the state’s own measurement network. In February, the Sächsische Landesbauernverband (SLB) commissioned Berlin Hydor Consult GmbH to prepare an expert report to review the measurement network. The results were presented to the public in Nünchritz, near Riesa, on Thursday. This bolstered the distrust of farmers, it was said.
Of the 173 measurement points surveyed, 115 showed “severe structural defects.” 16 were non-functional and 80 others could not be tested for functionality. In 18 posts the reviewers could have found “no representation” and in 57 this could not be assessed. In total, Hydor Consult rated three-quarters of the measurement points as “inadequate”, 18 as “limited suitability” and another 21 as “not evaluable”. The company considers that only seven measurement points are “adequate”. SLB president Torsten Krawczyk spoke of shortcomings that left “at least doubts” about the suitability of the measurement points for nitrate measurement. The result could not be like this. What is needed is a “perfectly matched” network that farmers can trust.
For the report, however, the experts did not inspect any measurement points, but only the documentation and measured values made available by the State Office of Environment, Agriculture and Geology (LfULG). The state authority, which in turn checked the report of the Berlin company, did not want to leave the result as it is. The document does not reflect the real state of the measurement points and is not sustainable from a technical point of view due to the chosen methodology.
One point of criticism: not all available information was included. According to LfULG department head Peter Börke, even applying the same criteria used by the experts, 20 percent of the measurement points were not adequate. Börke noted that the network in Saxony includes some 1,800 measurement points. Groundwater quality is controlled at around 700, including nitrate content. Agriculture Minister Wolfram Günther (Greens) announced investments to reach a “highly qualified measurement network” in the next two years. Krawczyk and Günther emphasized that they wanted to go down the road together. Krawczyk: “We are on the right track.”
Starting January 1, 2021, fertilization requirements will tighten in areas with higher levels of nitrates in groundwater (red areas). Therefore, farmers expect losses because the required quality would no longer be achieved due to less application of fertilizers.
However, according to Börke, the map with the red areas will change again at the end of the year. The reason: the authority has closed a good 60 nitrate measurement points, that is, almost ten percent, due to deficiencies. But this does not include the measurement points that appeared in the Berlin report, according to Börke.