Government Clean Air Rethink Vital for Dairy Sector

Defra needs to offer the dairy industry additional support and guidance if farmers are to meet ambitious government targets to reduce ammonia emissions.

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) called on Defra to urgently review targets set out in its Clean Air Strategy after it emerged that more than 40% of producers are unaware of measures they need to introduce to cut emissions.


Published in January, the strategy set out objectives for the way the country can tackle sources of air pollution in order to protect public health and the environment.

With agriculture responsible for 87% of the country’s ammonia emissions, it included regulations around agricultural production — particularly within the dairy sector — which farmers need to comply with by 2025.

However, an RABDF survey of almost 500 dairy farmers found that few farmers are aware of the strategy or of the changes that they need to make in order to become compliant.

Tim Brigstocke, RABDF policy director, said the UK dairy industry is committed to reducing its environmental footprint, however, whilst many producers have adopted more sustainable production practices the overall number of those investing in environmentally-friendly practices is still relatively low.

The survey showed that there are still considerable improvements the industry can make — if it has the right support to help it take action.

“There’s no doubt the goals Defra set out in its Clean Air Strategy are commendable, but they need to be realistic and our concern is that — at the moment — the dairy sector has little chance of meeting them,” he said.

“Our survey shows there’s a fundamental lack of knowledge amongst UK dairy farmers about the strategy and what’s expected of them.

“If we’re going to make the progress Defra expects, then producers need more guidance and support, as well as more realistic recommendations which take into account the different systems and farm types in the industry.”

According to the survey, more than 40% of dairy farmers are completely unaware of the Clean Air Strategy, or the requirements set out in it.

Of those who do know about it, few were aware of all of the proposed measures they could take to reduce ammonia emissions, which include covering slurry lagoons, slurry inoculation, and slurry acidification.

Peter Alvis, chairman of RABDF, said a recent industry meeting with Defra’s clean air strategy team provided the opportunity to outline some of the survey results, only highlighted their determination to drive through changes as soon as possible.

Mr Alvis said:
“Defra has acknowledged that they need to support the industry in investing in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions.

“But we remained concerned after the meeting that they do not appreciate the scale of change needed, or the pressure this will place on capital as well as limited resources.”

Mr Alvis said one of the changes Defra has proposed is for all slurry storage to be covered by 2025, but the survey suggests only 7% of dairy farmers questioned currently have covered stores.

“Covering lagoons can more than halve emissions, so there’s no doubt it’s a critical measure. But if all farmers are going to be compliant within the next six years there is going to be significant pressure on suppliers, consultants, and available funding to get the work done.”

Another area of major concern is around slurry separation and spreading, with only 27% of farmers currently separating liquids and solids.

The survey also showed the majority of farmers are still spreading slurry on to land — a practice which is under scrutiny in Defra’s strategy document.

While all dairy farms are expected to adopt low emissions spreading techniques such as a trailing shoe or shallow injection, only 9% and 17% respectively use either method, while most farmers still use splash plates or tankers.

“We have advised Defra that over three-quarters of farmers in our survey said they would consider switching to a lower emission method, but the concern remains about farmers’ ability to upgrade to those alternative techniques,” Mr Alvis added.

“There is funding available to help producers make improvements, but our survey found that 40% of farmers aren’t aware of funding options, and we doubt that many farmers are aware of all of the opportunities.

“Given the clear lack of knowledge in the industry, we are meeting Defra to ask it to rethink its goals and work with the industry to create a more structured approach to tackling emissions.

“Only then will dairy farmers be in the best position to help the government meet its long-term clean air targets.”


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