Agriculture is one of the main economic activities in the Baltic Sea
region. Almost 25% of the 1.7 million sq km drainage area around the sea is used for agricultural cultivation, with millions of people engaged in farming.
Changing farming patterns
Farming has produced foodstuffs for the local population for centuries, and when it took place on a smaller scale, farmers made good use of the nutrients they produced, in the form of manure and agricultural waste products, by putting it back into the soil.
However, following the extensive industrialisation of farming in Western Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, farms began using artificial fertilisers to increase yields. This meant an increase in the amount of nutrients – particularly phosphorus and nitrogen – put into the system, creating a large nutrient surplus.
Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden now have a relatively high level of intensive agricultural activity, which, while successful in economic terms, has had severe environmental consequences, because modernisation has not been accompanied by stringent enough measures to protect the environment. This is likely to continue unless something is done.
The situation will be compounded as the ‘new’ Baltic EU member states: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, which joined in 2004, develop their agriculture to ‘catch up’ with or overtake other EU countries, pushed by EU subsidies
to industrialise their agriculture. For example, meat production is predicted to increase in these countries by 70% by 2015, with Poland becoming Europe’s largest producer of pork.
Again, the subsidies farmers receive will not be linked to stringent requirements to meet environmental standards, so, for example, the European Fertilizer Manufacture Association estimates that these countries will increase their use of artificial fertilisers between 25 and 30% over the next 10 years.
In addition, as a result of demands for additional lands for farming around the Baltic Sea over the last 25 years, 90% of all the southern Baltic Sea’s wetlands have been drained. This has reduced the size and capacity of the area surrounding the sea to absorb the harmful nutrients in the run-off from farms.