Farmers could face fertiliser ban in a bid to reduce ammonia pollution

A government consultation has been launched on how to reduce ammonia emissions from solid urea ferti

A government consultation has been launched on how to reduce ammonia emissions from solid urea fertilisers used on farms. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

A ban on solid urea fertilisers is one of the options being considered in a government consultation on how to reduce pollution from farming’s ammonia emissions.

Defra says agriculture is responsible for 87pc of all UK emissions of ammonia, which can damage the environment, pollute watercourses and combine with other pollutants to form particulates which are harmful to human health.

The government has committed to reducing ammonia emissions by 16pc of 2005 levels by 2030 and is seeking views on three options to limit the environmental impact of solid urea fertilisers used to grow plants and crops. They are:

• A total ban on solid urea fertilisers.

• A requirement to stabilise solid urea fertilisers with the addition of a urease inhibitor – a chemical that helps slow the conversion of urea to ammonium.

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• A requirement to restrict the spreading of solid urea fertilisers so they can only be used from January 15 to March 31.

Defra said while each option will help towards emissions goals, a ban on solid urea fertilisers would achieve around 31pc of the ammonia reduction target by 2030.

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Environment secretary George Eustice said: “Ammonia emissions from agriculture are causing harm to sensitive and important habitats by making soils more acidic which damages the growth of some plant species, impacting on biodiversity. They are also harmful to human health, and we welcome views on how we can address their use in agriculture so that we can all breathe cleaner air.

“Any changes will need to be made in a way that is realistic and achievable for farmers, but which help us to achieve our ambitious targets for better air quality. We are committed to working with farmers to help them do this.”

READ MORE: How public-funded new sensor network is helping farmers reduce chemical spraysRob Wise, East Anglia environment adviser for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said the region’s farmers are already making progress towards emissions targets, and urged ministers not to ban “a valued product”.

“Farmers have made great strides in reducing key agricultural emissions over recent decades through more efficient targeting of fertiliser applied to farmland and held in the soil,” he said.

“Urea is the most commonly used form of nitrogen fertiliser in the world and an important tool for our farmers in helping produce the nation’s food. It offers several advantages when used alongside ammonium nitrate and is safer to handle, as well as helping to maintain a competitive fertiliser market in the UK.

“British farming is committed to playing its part in tackling climate change and has a goal to reach net zero by 2040. The NFU is asking government to support that ambition without resorting to removing a valued product like urea from the market.”

Other government measures to tackle agriculture’s ammonia emissions include the use of low emission agricultural spreading techniques by 2025, requiring slurry stores to be covered by 2027, and setting standards for new livestock housing.

The consultation is open from today for 12 weeks, until January 26.

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