National-scale nitrogen loading from the Finnish agricultural fields has decreased since the 1990s


  • Inese Huttunen Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)
  • Markus Huttunen Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)
  • Tapio Salo Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
  • Pasi Mattila Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
  • Liisa Maanavilja Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Geological Survey of Finland (GTK)
  • Tarja Silfver Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)


The national scale nutrient load modelling system VEMALA-ICECREAM was used to simulate agricultural total nitrogen
(TN) loading and its trends for all Finnish watersheds for the period from 1990–2019. Across Finland, agricultural TN loading (ATNL) has decreased from 17.4 kg ha-1 a-1 to 14.4 kg ha-1 a-1 (moving 10-year averages) since the 1990s. The main driver of the decrease in simulated ATNL is a reduction in mineral fertilizer use, which has decreased the N surplus in the soils. The TN leached fraction, however, did not show a trend but did have high annual variability due to variations in runoff; this corresponds to an average of 14.4% of the TN applied. The ATNL was considerably higher in the Archipelago Sea catchment compared to other Finnish Baltic Sea sub-catchments, with the lowest ATNL found in the Vuoksi catchment in Eastern Finland. The highest decrease of ATNL was simulated for Vuoksi and Gulf of Finland catchments. In the Bothnian Sea, Bothnian Bay and Archipelago Sea catchments, the decreasing trend of ATNL was smaller but still significant, with the exception of the Quark catchment, where there was no significant change. The differences in decreasing trends between regions can be explained by the heterogeneity of catchment characteristics, hydrology and agricultural practices in different regions.



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2023-08-31 — Updated on 2023-10-02


How to Cite

Huttunen, I., Huttunen, M., Salo, T., Mattila, P., Maanavilja, L., & Silfver, T. (2023). National-scale nitrogen loading from the Finnish agricultural fields has decreased since the 1990s. Agricultural and Food Science, 32(3), 112–127. (Original work published August 31, 2023)
Received 2022-12-13
Accepted 2023-08-16
Published 2023-10-02