Main authors: Ingrid Nesheim
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Hasler, B. et al. (2021) Identification of cost-effective and coherent management models for drinking water protection in agriculture. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 6.4R 55 pp


The assessment of pesticide and nitrate abatement measures used for the protection of drinking water from both surface and groundwater sources is one of FAIRWAY's research themes. For details of the methodology used for the assessment, an in-depth analysis of catch crops (a measure often used for nitrate abatement), and the general conclusion drawn from this and other case studies see »Cost-effective and coherent management models for drinking water protection.

Contents table
1. Context
2. Catch crop schemes in Norway
3. Farmers' current perceptions of motivations and challenges for implementing catch crops

1. Context

In Norway, arable land account for 2.2% of the land (World Bank, 2016). Norway as an EFTA member, implements several EU directives as ND, DWD, WFD, GWD and SSD, relevant for reducing nitrogen leaching. Norway does not implement the CAP, including its cross-compliance scheme, but comparable cross-compliance schemes exist. Regulations and policies to reduce leaching of nutrients have been implemented since late 1980, early 1990s. Catch crops is a voluntary measure to reduce run-off of nutrients specified in Regional Environmental Programmes (RMP). As incentive, a general subsidy associated with the area of cover crops have been available to farmers since 1998. Subsidy levels over the years have varied. Catch crop cover was at its highest in 2002/2003 with 35 000 ha, 10% of the area) corresponding to the year with the highest subsidy level (Bøe et al., 2019). Subsidies were laterreduced as monitoring showed increased leaching of nutrients, in particular phosphorus (Pers. Com county governor, 2019). Studies showed that freezing-thawing during winter increased the risk of losses of dissolved phosphorus from catch crop biomass (Aronson et al. 2016). Based on studies and experiments in the recent decade, catch crop species are now identified for effective reduction of nitrate and phosphorus leaching (Aronsson et al., 2016). Area of cover crops was in 2018 1.23% in cereals. There has recently been a small increase in catch crop cover since a low level of 0.8% in 2016, likely due to increased subsidies (Bøe et al., 2020).  

2. Catch crop schemes in Norway

The Regional Environmental Programme Viken and Oslo (2019 - 2022).

On regional level, the Regional Environmental Program (RMP) focus on environmental efforts in agriculture beyond what is possible through general national schemes. The RMP provides an overview of available subsidies (policy) and legal regulations that specify economic support and mandatory measures to reduce leaching of nutrients. Measures in the RMP being mandatory are mostly associated with a subsidy. Catch crops is a listed measures in the RMP. Requirements for receiving subsidy for catch crops include: minimum sowing of seeds one-two weeks before threshing, and the area should:

  1. not be sprayed with pesticides,
  2. not fertilized in the fall,
  3. the area should not be tilled until March 1.

The amount of funding available for catch crops is determined in the annual agricultural settlement between the state and the Norwegian Farmers and Smallholders’ Union.

3. Farmers' current perceptions of motivations and challenges for implementing catch crops

 Motivation aspects and potential

This section is built on interviews with farmers and agricultural advisors in the period 2019-2020. Policies are becoming more favourable towards catch crops as studies have identified species more suited to the Nordic climate. Other motivation aspects are win-win effects of catch crops for soil health and carbon sequestration, reduced erosion, and reduced phosphorus leaching (interviews with agricultural advisors, and farmers 2020). Farmers expressed in interviews that motivation for sowing catch crops are improving soil health, reduce soil compaction (Farmers, individual interviews, 2019). Another motivation aspect mentioned by some farmers were interest trying better management practices, “innovation”, conservation farming (Farmers, individual interviews, 2019).


Based on interviews with individual farmer in 2020 we have found that, establishment of catch crop can be challenging if the weather is not favourable. Also, with unfavourable weather, too dry or too wet, catch crop growth can be poor. The weather conditions vary from year to year, also representing unpredictability. If the catch crop is sown same time as the main crop, there is a risk of competition between the catch crop and the main crop which impacts yield of main crop.

Bøe et al. (2020) present in a report the following barriers for catch crops (barriers were identified at a workshop in Norway on March 13th in the EU project SoilCare):

  • The catch crops may compete with the main crop for nutrients and thereby results in reduced yield and reduced income for the farmer.
  • It is with catch crops a risk that this crop may be weeds the following year, if the unsuited catch crops species are selected, or if termination of the catch crops fails.
  • Market barriers; limited supply of catch crops available on the market and costs of buying can be high.
  • Insufficient knowledge about the use of the effect of catch crops among farmers. Bøe et al. suggest the following tools to increase the knowledge: information sheets, demonstrations in the field with guidelines for sowing catch crops referring to local recommendations for varieties and species. Ensuring that knowledge dissemination takes place through relevant information channels that reach out to the farmers is emphasized.
  • Behavioural barriers; some farmers dislike changing management practices.
  • Part time farmers; less time for farm work, only essential practices may be prioritized.
  • Rental farmland, farmers tend to invest less in rental farm land.
  • Weather conditions, short growth season in Norway.
  • Available arable areas and the selection of main crop suited for catch crops management



For full references to papers quoted in this article see



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