The political ecology of manure export in Lower Saxony: an ethnographic case study

The “Oldenburger Münsterland” region in the German State of Lower Saxony is characterized by highly intensive animal farming. In order to maintain stock levels under tighter fertilizer regulations, the industry seeks to expand the established practice of manure transport into other regions. Drawing on ethnographic research and a political ecology framework, the contribution enfolds the complexity of this sociotechnical network. It looks at the material and social dimensions involved in the contentious process of slurry “becoming” fertilizer elsewhere, and at the infrastructuring practices related to the establishment of a circular economy for nutrients.

Since 2016, Germany has been facing infringement procedures over the inadequate implementation of the EU Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC). In response, the German Fertilizer Ordinance has been revised in 2017, introducing measures such as fertilizer demand planning and limits on organic nitrogen application, including further restrictions for polluted areas administered by the Länder. The EC considers these as still insufficient and opened a second case in 2019. Further restrictions are imminent.