To balance their nutrient cycles, Swiss farms export surplus farmyard manure to farms with free uptake capacities or to composting and anaerobic digestion facilities. Between 2015 and 2020 the volumes of organic manure and recycled fertilisers transported rose significantly, with a consequent increase in transport costs.
Nutrient losses in agricuture can adversely impact the environment and human health. For this reason, Swiss farms must provide evidence of a balanced nutrient cycle (‘Suisse-Bilanz’) as a precondition for the receipt of direct payments. From 2024, the previous 10% error range will cease to apply.
Farms producing too much farmyard manure export their surpluses to farms with free uptake capacities, or to composting and anaerobic digestion facilities. Since 2014, the Swiss Confederation has managed the transfer of farmyard manures via the online platform ‘HODUFLU’. The present report analyses and describes the structures and farm types of the individual stakeholders of the farmyard-manure market as well as the net nutrient transfers. In addition, it estimates the transport distances and costs associated with the transfer of these organic and recycled fertilisers.
Over 20,000 farms involved in the farmyard-manure market
Around 42% of all farms – 21,492 in total – listed in the Swiss Confederation’s Agricultural Policy Information System (AGIS) are active in the farmyard-manure market. Of these, 65% import organic or recycled fertilisers without supplying nutrients themselves, 24% of the farms act exclusively as suppliers and 11% both export farmyard manure and import recycled fertilisers. In 2020, the nett nutrient transfer for nitrogen amounted to just under 13,000 tonnes of total nitrogen (Nstock) and for phosphorus to just over 6400 tonnes of phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5). Nett nutrient transfer takes into account only those nutrients that are applied on land outside of the farm of origin, whilst ignoring those that end up once more at the farm of origin as recycled fertilisers.
Rise in transported volumes increases cost of farmyard manures
A tonne of recycled fertilisers is transported an average distance of 20 km. The average transport distance for a tonne of manure or slurry is around 9 km, which scarcely changed over the investigated time period of 2015 to 2020. However, the volume transported over this five-year period rose from around 3.63 M tonnes to around 4.98 M tonnes. Our estimates therefore point to an increase in costs for the transport of organic and recycled fertilisers throughout Switzerland from CHF 19.1 M in 2015 to CHF 27.5 M in 2020.
Expensive mineral fertiliser affects the organic manure market
In certain regions there is an oversupply of, but little demand for, farmyard-manure nutrients. In addition to this, the transport, application and lack of homogeneity of farmyard manure entails costs that are often higher than for mineral fertilisation. To retain their direct payments, farmyard-manure providers need to ‘dispose of’ their organic manure surpluses on fertilisable land outside of their own farms, nowadays often shouldering the costs for transporting the farmyard manure themselves. Current global political events are exerting an economic pressure to adapt that is affecting the organic manure market, among others. As a consequence of mineral-fertiliser shortages triggered by the war in Ukraine and increased transport costs in 2022, it has become more expensive to import mineral fertilisers. With the higher prices and lower availability of imported mineral fertilisers, the relative value of the nutrients from organic and recycled fertilisers for safeguarding in-kind crop-production yields is rising.
- From 2015 to 2020, costs for the transport of organic and recycled fertilisers throughout Switzerland are estimated to have increased from CHF 19.1 M to CHF 27.5 M. The reason for this rise in costs was the increase in transported volume from 3.63 M to 4.98 M tonnes over the same period.
- In 2020 the nett nutrient transfer was just under 13,000 tonnes of total nitrogen (Nstock) and just over 6400 tonnes of phosphorus (P2O5), with a slight increase of just under 4% for nitrogen and 6% for phosphorus between 2015 and 2020.
- Thanks to political efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus surpluses in agriculture and to the growing scarcity of energy sources and mineral fertilisers, we expect a further increase in the transported volumes of farmyard manures, and thus in costs for the transport of organic and recycled fertilisers throughout Switzerland.