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NFU warns against emissions permit system for dairy farms

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has registered ‘strong opposition’ to proposals set out in the government’s Clean Air Strategy to put in place stronger regulation on the dairy sector over ammonia emissions.

NFU’s comments have arisen in its response to the consultation on the draft version of the Strategy which closed this week. Detailed proposals are expected in late 2018 or early 2019.

Dairy farming is thought to contribute to around 28% of the agricultural sector’s ammonia emissions

Within the Strategy, government has targeted a reduction in ammonia emissions from the dairy farming industry, which it is claimed accounted for around 28% of ammonia emissions from across the agricultural sector in 2016. Of these ammonia emissions, around 60% are thought to be from farm premises with over 150 cows.

Ammonia is released to the atmosphere from livestock urine and excreta as well as from manufactured fertilisers such as ammonium nitrate and urea.

As part of the Strategy, the government has said that it may seek to extend environmental permitting requirements for large dairy farms, bringing them more closely in line with requirements placed upon poultry and pig farmers regarding emissions.

In its draft Strategy, Defra states: “This approach would require industry and government to agree appropriate emission limits and Best Available Techniques for the sector, and regulated farms would then be given time to implement the proposals. It is proposed that the requirements should be implemented on the largest dairy farms by 2025.â€?

In the pig and poultry sectors, permitted farms are required to apply production systems which are proven to reduce emissions of ammonia to the atmosphere. Livestock farmers can reduce ammonia losses through good practice in areas including diet formulation, ventilation including scrubbers and bio filters, slurry cooling and/or acidification, slurry storage and manure spreading techniques.

This is currently not the case for dairy farms, which could be subject to more stringent requirements as a result of actions stemming from the Clean Air Strategy.

However, NFU has argued against this step, which it claims could cost dairy farmers thousands of pounds of costs in permitting and additional preventative measures.

Best practice

The organisation says it is seeking to work with government on best practice for industry to reduce ammonia emissions, before any additional regulation is introduced.

NFU Environment Forum chairman Mark Pope said: “Defra needs to adopt an approach to reducing ammonia production which uses the best available data so that government and industry action is most effectively targeted.

“We have welcomed the opportunity to respond to the Clean Air Strategy and strongly believe that farmers are in a great position to contribute towards government’s ambitions on this.

“In our response we have set out detailed and technical solutions, highlighting the need to address barriers to change. We made clear the need for advice and guidance and for adequate investment in measurement. We believe it’s essential to have confidence in the data collection of air pollutants so farmers can have a robust knowledge of the current situation and can chart progress.

“The NFU is calling on Defra to consider alternatives to additional regulation and, in particular, work with the industry on improving farm practice to minimise ammonia emissions first before considering a ban or imposing limits. It’s essential that we have a joined up approach to ensure that any new measures to address ammonia do not create perverse environmental outcomes in other ways.â€?

The agricultural industries have been targeted as one of the key areas for improvement in the Clean Air Strategy.

COGAP

Last month the government also launched a Code of Good Agricultural Practice (COGAP), co-written by the NFU, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the Agricultural Industries Confederation, setting out ‘simple steps’ farmers can take to restrict ammonia emissions (see airqualitynews.com story).

The guide includes information on how to reduce emissions when storing and applying organic manure, applying manufactured nitrogen fertiliser and feeding and housing livestock.

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