NFU urges Defra to consider alternatives to increased pollutant regulation

The NFU is concerned that a permitting system, as outlined in Defra's consultation, could cost thousands of pounds and 'severely hamper' the dairy industry
The NFU is concerned that a permitting system, as outlined in Defra's consultation, could cost thousands of pounds and 'severely hamper' the dairy industry

The NFU has called on the government to consider alternatives to additional regulation looking to curb ammonia pollution.

Defra’s Clean Air Strategy consultation, which closed on Tuesday (14 Aug), outlines the government’s ambitions relating to reducing air pollution.

Levels of ammonia emissions, which stems mainly from the agricultural industry, rose by 3.2% from 2015 to 2016, according to Defra.

The NFU has now gathered the views of its membership to submit a response, explaining solutions to achieve cleaner air alongside productive food production.

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".

He added: “We have welcomed the opportunity to respond to the Government’s 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.

He said: “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.

Mr Pope added: “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.”

'Severely hamper'

The consultation proposes a permitting system in the dairy sector, similar to the system applying to pigs and poultry.

According to the NFU, such a system could potentially cost thousands of pounds for a permit and additional investment.

The union said it is "strongly opposed" to the system, and NFU Dairy Board Chairman, Michael Oakes said it could "severely hamper" the industry.

“Like all industries the dairy sector has a role to play in improving air quality, but we do not believe permitting dairy farms is the right way to deliver for the environment or productivity," Mr Oakes said.

“Without a full economic impact assessment – including a look at lessons learnt from permitting pig and poultry businesses – policy-makers could severely hamper the sector by imposing regulation that may result in a contraction of the industry," he added.

The NFU said the dairy industry is committed to improving environmental performance, and points to The Dairy Roadmap, a cross-industry initiative looking to improve environmental issues within the industry, as progression.

The union has called for a better system of knowledge exchange and advice, and an optimisation of the evidence base – including an assessment and acknowledgement of mitigation techniques already in use - as ways forward.