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Farmers must prepare for government crackdown on ammonia pollution ‘before the carrot turns into a stick’

PUBLISHED: 07:56 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 07:56 10 August 2018

Dairy cattle were responsible for 28% of the UK's agricultural ammonia emissions in 2016, according to Defra. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Dairy cattle were responsible for 28% of the UK's agricultural ammonia emissions in 2016, according to Defra. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2014

Farmers should start preparing for a government crackdown on ammonia emissions by taking advantage of grant opportunities before “the carrot turns into a stick”, said rural agents in Norfolk.

Muck spreading on a Norfolk farm.  Photo: Nick ButcherMuck spreading on a Norfolk farm. Photo: Nick Butcher

Stricter controls on spreading fertiliser and better livestock housing were among the measures outlined in Defra’s draft Clean Air Strategy, which is under consultation until August 14.

The strategy sets out proposals to reduce air pollution, with a particular focus on cutting emissions of ammonia – a gas released into the atmosphere from agricultural sources like slurry or other rotting farm waste and fertiliser – by 8pc by 2020 and by 16pc by 2030.

With agriculture estimated to be responsible for 88pc of the UK’s ammonia emissions, the government has published a new Code of Good Agricultural Practice for Reducing Ammonia, which sets out the steps it wants farmers to take.

Jason Cantrill, a farming consultant in the Norwich office of Strutt and Parker, said while the code is currently a guidance document, East Anglian farmers needed to prepare for some of the recommendations to be made mandatory.

“The challenge for the farming industry is that meeting the guidelines will involve capital investment, which will have an impact on both owner occupiers and the let sector,” he said. “If some of these guidelines are to become legal requirements, landlords with Agricultural Holdings Act (AHA) tenants are likely to find themselves served with Section 11 notices asking for the provision of fixed equipment necessary to comply with statutory requirements.

“Farm businesses will clearly need to weigh up the practicalities of what they being asked to do, along with the impact on productivity. However, given the government is already signalling that it is keen to adopt more of a ‘polluter pays’ approach in future, it does makes sense for farmers and landlords to start preparing for the possibility of tougher controls.

“Part of the solution to the investment challenge is to take advantage of any grant incentives before we get to the point where the carrot turns into a stick.

“We already know that the government is planning another round of the Countryside Productivity Small Grants Scheme later this autumn. Assuming the terms of the scheme remain the same, this will give farm businesses the opportunity to bid for grants of between £3,000 and £12,000 which can be used to help pay for low-emission spreading equipment.”

The code’s recommendations include using a nutrient management plan to calculate fertiliser and manure application rates, along with storage and application techniques to reduce emissions, such as slurry store covers to reduce rainwater entry.

It also suggests farmers should keep the surface area of any solid muck heaps as small as possible and cover the top with plastic sheeting to reduce the movement of wind across the pile.

These recommendations tie in with a proposal in the draft Clean Air Strategy that all slurry and digestate stores, and manure heaps will need to be covered by 2027.

The code says application equipment that injects slurry or digestate straight into the soil, rather than broadcasting it, could reduce ammonia emissions by up to 90pc.

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