Phosphorus and nitrogen fluxes carried by 21 Finnish agricultural rivers in 1985–2006

  • Petri Ekholm
  • Katri Rankinen
  • Hannu Rita
  • Antti Räike
  • Heidi Sjöblom
  • Arjen Raateland
  • Ljudmila Vesikko
  • José Enrique Cano Bernal
  • Antti Taskinen


The Finnish Agri-Environmental Programme aims to reduce nutrient load to waters. Using national monitoring data, we estimated the agricultural load (incl. natural background) of total phosphorus (TP) and total nitrogen (TN) transported by 21 Finnish rivers to the northern Baltic Sea and analysed the flow-adjusted trends in the loads and concentrations from 1985 to 2006. We also related the loads to spatial and temporal patterns in catchment and agricultural characteristics. Agricultural load of TN increased, especially in the rivers discharging into the Bothnian Bay, while the load of TP decreased in most of the rivers, except those discharging into the Archipelago Sea. The trends may partly be related to a decrease in grassed area (TP, TN) and increased mineralisation (TN), but the available data on catchment and agricultural characteristics did not fully explain the observed pattern. Our study showed that data arising from relatively infrequent monitoring may prove useful for analysing long-term trend. The mutual correlation among the explaining variables hampered the analysis of the load generating factors.


Agriculture Catchment Nitrogen Phosphorus River Trend Agri-environmental measures 



We would like to thank the Ministry of the Environment, the Finnish Field Drainage Association, Maa- ja Vesitekniikan Tuki ry and the EU Erasmus programme for financially supporting this study. We are grateful to Jukka Aroviita for commenting on the manuscript and Hannu Sirviö, Niina Kotamäki and Heli Rita for the help with Proc Mixed.

Compliance with ethical standards

We see no ethical issues or potential conflicts of interest in this research.


  1. Aakkula, J., Kuussaari, M., Rankinen, K., Ekholm, P., Heliölä, J., Hyvönen, T., et al. (2011). Follow-up study on the impacts of agri-environmental measures in Finland. Workshop on evaluating agri-environmental policies. Braunschweig, Germany, 20–22 June 2011. In Evaluation of Agri-Environmental Policies Selected Methodological Issues and Case Studies (pp. 111–127). OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  2. Arheimer, B., Andersson, L., & Lepistö, A. (1996). Variation of nitrogen concentration in forest streams—influences of flow, seasonality and catchment characteristics. Journal of Hydrology, 179, 281–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Babbie, E. R. (2007). The practice of social research (11th edition): Thomson Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  4. Bouraoui, F., & Grizzetti, B. (2011). Long term change of nutrient concentrations of rivers discharging in European seas. Science of the Total Environment, 409, 4899–4916.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cherry, K. A., Shepherd, M., Withers, P. J. A., & Mooney, S. J. (2008). Assessing the effectiveness of actions to mitigate nutrient loss from agriculture: a review of methods. Science of the Total Environment, 406(1–2), 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. EEC. (1992). Council Regulation (EEC) No 2078/92 of 30 June 1992 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside. Official Journal of the European Communities, L215, 85–90.Google Scholar
  7. Ekholm, P., & Mitikka, S. (2006). Agricultural lakes in Finland—current water quality and trends. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 116, 111–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ekholm, P., Granlund, K., Kauppila, P., Mitikka, S., Niemi, J., Rankinen, K., et al. (2007). Influence of EU policy on agricultural nutrient losses and the state of receiving surface waters in Finland. Agricultural and Food Science, 16, 282–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Granlund, K., Räike, A., Ekholm, P., Rankinen, K., & Rekolainen, S. (2005). Assessment of water protection targets for agricultural nutrient loading in Finland. Journal of Hydrology, 304(1–4), 251–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jarvie, H. P., Withers, P. J. A., Bowes, M. J., Palmer-Felgate, E. J., Harper, D. M., Wasiak, K., et al. (2010). Streamwater phosphorus and nitrogen across a gradient in rural–agricultural land use intensity. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 135, 238–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Johnes, P. J. (2007). Uncertainties in annual riverine phophorus load estimation: impact of load estimation methodology, sampling frequency, baseflow index and catchment population density. Journal of Hydrology, 332, 241–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kajosaari, E. (1965). On the washing of phosphorus into watercourses (in Finnish with an English summary). Vesitalous, 1965(3), 17–25.Google Scholar
  13. Kauppi, L. (1979). Phosphorus and nitrogen input from rural population, agriculture and forest fertilization to watercourses. Publications of the Water Research Institute, 34, 35–46.Google Scholar
  14. Kauppi, L. (1984). Contribution of agricultural loading to the deterioration of surface waters in Finland. Publications of the Water Research Institute, 57, 24–30.Google Scholar
  15. Kauppi, L., Knuuttila, S., Sandman, K., Eskonen, K., Luokkanen, S., & Liehu, A. (1990). Role of landuse in the occurrence of blue-green algal blooms. [Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol.]. Verhandlungen der internationationale Vereinigung für theoretische und angewandte Limnologie, 24, 671-676.Google Scholar
  16. Kauppila, P., & Koskiaho, J. (2003). Evaluation of annual loads of nutrients and suspended solids in Baltic rivers. Nordic Hydrology, 34(3), 203–220.Google Scholar
  17. Kenttämies, K., & Mattson, T. (2006). Metsätalouden vesistökuormitus, MESUVEprojektin loppuraportti. Suomen ympäristökeskus.Google Scholar
  18. Kortelainen, P., Mattsson, T., Finér, L., Ahtiainen, M., Saukkonen, S., & Sallantaus, T. (2006). Controls on the export of C, N, P and Fe from undisturbed boreal catchments, Finland. Aquatic Sciences, 68, 453–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kronvang, B., Bechmann, M., Lundekvam, H., Behrendt, H., Rubaek, G. H., Schoumans, O. F., et al. (2005). Phosphorus losses from agricultural areas in river basins: effects and uncertainties of targeted mitigation measures. Journal of Environmental Quality, 34(6), 2129–2144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kukkonen, M., Rita, H., Hohnwald, S., & Nygren, A. (2007). Treefall gaps of certified, conventionally managed and natural forests as regeneration sites for neotropical timber trees in northern Honduras. Forest Ecology and Management, 255, 2163–2176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Laukkanen, M., & Nauges, C. (2014). Evaluating greening farm policies: a structural model for assessing agri-environmental subsidies. Land Economics, 90(3), 458–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lepistö, A., Kortelainen, P., & Mattson, T. (2008). Increased organic C and N leaching in a northern boreal river basin in Finland. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 22, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Libiseller, C., & Grimvall, A. (2002). Performance of partial Mann-Kendall tests for trend detection in the presence of covariates. Environmetrics, 13(1), 71–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lilja, H., Uusitalo, R., Yli-Halla, M., Nevalainen, R., Väänänen, T., & Tamminen, P. (2009). Finnish soil database user’s guide. MTT Tiede 6 (in Finnish.).Google Scholar
  25. Mäntylahti, V. (2003). Suomen peltojen viljavuus 1986-1990, 1991-1995, 1996-2000. Viljavuuspalvely Oy.Google Scholar
  26. Mattsson, T., Finer, L., Kortelainen, P., & Sallantaus, T. (2003). Brook water quality and background leaching from unmanaged forested catchments in Finland. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 147, 275–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Niemi, J., & Ahlstedt, J. (Eds.). (2012). Finnish agriculture and rural industries 2012 (MTT Taloustutkimus julkaisuja 112a): MTT Economic Research, Agrifood Research Finland.Google Scholar
  28. Pellikka, J., Rita, H., Lindén, H., & Svensberg, M. (2007). Motives for voluntary wildlife monitoring in Finland. Wildlife Biology, 13, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Penttilä, R., Lindgren, M., Miettinen, O., Rita, H., & Hanski, I. (2006). Consequences of forest fragmentation for polyporous fungi at two spatial scales. Oikos, 114(2), 225–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Puustinen, M., Tattari, S., Koskiaho, J., & Linjama, J. (2007). Influence of seasonal and annual hydrological variations on erosion and phosphorus transport from arable areas in Finland. Soil & Tillage Research, 93(1), 44–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rask, M., Olin, M., & Ruuhijärvi, J. (2010). Fish-based assessment of ecological status of Finnish lakes loaded by diffuse nutrient pollution from agriculture. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 17(2), 126–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rekolainen, S., Posch, M., Kämäri, J., & Ekholm, P. (1991). Evaluation of the accuracy and precision of annual phosphorus load estimates from 2 agricultural basins in Finland. Journal of Hydrology, 128(1–4), 237–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Salo, T., & Turtola, E. (2006). Nitrogen balance as an indicator of nitrogen leaching in Finland. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 113(1–4), 98–107. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2005.09.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Stålnacke, P., Aakerøy, P. A., Blicher-Mathiasen, G., Iital, A., Jansons, V., Koskiaho, J., et al. (2014). Temporal trends in nitrogen concentrations and losses from agricultural catchments in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 198, 94–103. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2014.03.028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sucksdorff, Y., & Teiniranta, R. (2001). Land cover and land use mapping in Finland. In G. Groom & T. Reed (Eds.), Strategic landscape monitoring for the Nordic countries (pp. 523) (pp. 89–93). Copenhagen: TemaNord. Nordic Council of Ministers.Google Scholar
  36. Sutela, T., & Vehanen, T. (2009). Responses of fluvial fish assemblages to agriculture within the boreal zone. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 17, 141–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tamminen, T., & Andersen, T. (2007). Seasonal phytoplankton nutrient limitation patterns as revealed by bioassays over Baltic Sea gradients of salinity and eutrophication. Marine Ecology-Progress Series, 340, 121–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Turtola, E. (2007). The Agri-Environmental Program in Finland: Effects on nutrient loading from agriculture into surface waters in 2000-2006—preface. Agricultural and Food Science, 16(4), 279–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Uusi-Kämppä, J., & Heinonen-Tanski, H. (2008). Evaluating slurry broadcasting and injection to ley for phosphorus losses and fecal microorganisms in surface runoff. Journal of Environmental Quality, 37, 2339–2350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Uusitalo, R. (2004). Potential bioavailability of particulate phosphorus in runoff from arable clayey soils (Agrifood Research Reports 53). Jokioinen: MTT.Google Scholar
  41. Uusitalo, R., & Jansson, H. (2002). Dissolved reactive phosphorus in runoff assessed by soil extraction with an acetate buffer. Agricultural and Food Science in Finland, 11(4), 343–353.Google Scholar
  42. Uusitalo, R., Turtola, E., & Lemola, R. (2007). Phosphorus losses from a subdrained clayey soil as affected by cultivation practices. Agricultural and Food Science, 16, 352–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Vagstad, N., Stålnacke, P., Andersen, H. E., Deelstra, J., Jansons, V., Kyllmar, K., et al. (2004). Regional variations in diffuse nitrogen losses from agriculture in the Nordic and Baltic regions. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 8(4), 651–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Valve, H., Åkerman, M., & Kaljonen, M. (2013). ‘You only start filling in the boxes’: natural resource management and the politics of plan-ability. Environment & Planning A, 45, 2084–2099.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Varanka, S., & Luoto, M. (2011). Environmental determinants of water quality in boreal rivers based on partitioning methods. River Research and Applications, 28, 1034–1046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Vuorenmaa, J., Rekolainen, S., Lepisto, A., Kenttamies, K., & Kauppila, P. (2002). Losses of nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural and forest areas in Finland during the 1980s and 1990s. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 76(2), 213–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Vuorinen, J., & Mäkitie, O. (1955). The method of soil testing in use in Finland. Agrogeological Publications, 63, 1-44.Google Scholar
  48. Wartiovaara, J. (1975). Jokien ainevirtaamista Suomen rannikolla [English abstract: Amounts of Substances Discharged by Rivers Off the Coast of Finland] (Vesientutkimuslaitoksen julkaisuja - Publications of the Water Research Institute 13): Vesihallitus-National Board of Waters.Google Scholar
  49. Windolf, J., Blicher-Mathiesen, G., Carstensen, J., & Kronvang, B. (2012). Changes in nitrogen loads to estuaries following implementation of governmental action plans in Denmark: a paired catchment and estuary approach for analysing regional responses. Environmental Science & Policy, 24, 24–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Yli-Viikari, A., Hietala-Koivu, R., Huusela-Veistola, E., Hyvönen, T., Perälä, P., & Turtola, E. (2007). Evaluating agri-environmental indicators (AEIs)—use and limitations of international indicators at national level. Ecological Indicators, 7, 150–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Petri Ekholm
    • 1
  • Katri Rankinen
    • 1
  • Hannu Rita
    • 2
  • Antti Räike
    • 1
  • Heidi Sjöblom
    • 1
  • Arjen Raateland
    • 1
  • Ljudmila Vesikko
    • 1
  • José Enrique Cano Bernal
    • 1
  • Antti Taskinen
    • 1
  1. 1.Finnish Environment Institute SYKEHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.University of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

Personalised recommendations