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Phosphorus efficiency in Gallus gallus and Sus scrofa: Bridging the gaps in the phosphorus value chain

The competitiveness of European agri-food production relies on the efficient and sustainable use of resources. The essential element phosphorus (P) is a commercially finite resource and is not used efficiently in agriculture and our food and waste systems. The EU imports 90% of its mineral P which creates vulnerability to shocks in the global mineral P-supply chain and this could jeopardize EU food security. To improve the sustainability and efficiency of P-use, PEGaSus addresses P-efficiency in animals and plants, P-losses from manure management and the role of microorganisms in influencing P-availability and storage in soils. A consortium of scientists and stakeholder from Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden and Italy tackle these issues with an emphasis on monogastric species (pig and chicken) that are particularly inefficient in the digestion of plant derived P. PEGaSus comprises animal feeding trials designed to address (i) the bioavailability, digestibility and efficiency of plant P and (ii) P-losses and emissions from pig and chicken husbandry targeting animal health, welfare and environmental benefits. Alternative technical, policy and governance strategies to minimize P-discharges from farms, P runoff from soil and subsequent enrichment in aquatic ecosystems will be developed.

In a joint manuscript strategies have been highlighted (i) to increase bioavailability, digestibility & efficiency of plant P in mono-gastric animals, (ii) to reduce P losses and emissions from pig & chicken husbandry, and (iii) to minimize P runoff from soil and enrichment in aquatic systems. The genetics of hematological traits related to the calcium and P-balance have been investigated in a German Landrace pig population. The phenotypical variation might rely on genomic regions and gene variants which have been elucidated via targeted and holistic approaches. A bio-economic model for pig and poultry farms have been developed and calibrated to the current situation. The model will be applied to assess and compare the economic viability and the environmental performances of alternative feeding strategies targeted to increase P-efficiency and potential government measures. The regulations within the EU have up to now emphasized nitrogen management as characterized by the Nitrates Directive. The PEGaSus research has revealed that P-manure application has been left unmanaged which has resulted in decades of overloading and wasting of P. The recent IPPC BATs Directive (2017) will help manage pig and poultry farms for both nitrogen and P-emissions but not for managing the nutrients in manure applications.

Putting phosphate rock on the EU list of critical elements has encouraged recycling and reuse of phosphate from waste sources so by-products from slaughter, wastewater and sludge are now increasingly processed back into phosphate. National regulations e.g. in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and the Baltic Sea countries have put limits on the level of P overloading of farmland and the subsequent levels of P in runoff. For areas that have been farmed for many decades, legacy P will continue to produce high levels of P in runoff such that the Water Framework Directive goals will not easily be met. The general public and decision makers show steadily increasing interest in P-usage and its associated environmental aspects. This was triggered by debates in Germany about the maximum amount of liquid manure to be spread on fields. In fact, the consortium was consulted by a Federal Ministry of Germany to determine the P-balance in pigs, which illustrates the need for sound scientific knowledge and measurements in terms of P.

Messages to

A) Farmers

  • Safety margins for dietary P intake do not generate added value; oversupply might have even a negative impact

  • Manure should be spread on the basis of both P and N content; present practices contribute to significant overloading of soils with P which eventually ends up in runoff; for soils that are high in P content no inorganic P fertilizer should be applied; surface soil measurements of Olsen P are encouraged

B) Breeders

  • Deviation from recommended P supply must to be carefully considered (welfare; health effects on bone and immune system); the genetic foundation of P efficiency provides opportunities to improve endogenous mechanisms of P utilization

C) Civil society and practitioners organisations

  • Increased awareness of the relatively low P-efficiency in the production of pig and poultry meat is required; pig and poultry provide about half of the world’s meat which requires increased acceptability of pig and poultry production systems with improvements of on-farm practice

D) Policy makers

  • Encouraged that P is added to the nitrates directive in order to better control the overloading of soils with P

  • The new FAST app manure calculator managed under the CAP should also include P and not just nitrogen

Knowledge products:

Knowledge networks:

The PEGaSus project is a member of the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform (ESPP). This enables project-specific stakeholder communication and actions. In addition, the dissemination of the start of the project, results, etc., is enriched by the regular, scientifically based newsletter, which is forwarded to ~45,000 affiliated companies, scientists and interested parties.

Coordinated by: Prof. Klaus Wimmers - Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (GERMANY) - Contact

Funded by: BMEL, DAFA, MIPAAF, Formas and DEFRA as part of the ERA-NET Cofund SusAn through a virtual common pot model including EU Top-Up funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 696231)

4 research partners:

  • DENMARK: Aarhus University
  • ITALY: Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
  • SWEDEN: Stockholm Environment Institute
  • UNITED KINGDOM: Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute

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