November 2014: A tribute to Professor Brian Chambers

This month I’d like to pay tribute to Professor Brian Chambers, who recently passed away suddenly. While some of you may have had dealings with him over the years, others won’t know the name, but will have benefited from his detailed knowledge, dedication and enthusiasm.

A soil scientist, he was head of the ADAS Soils and Nutrients Group, and was a driving force behind the recognition of muck and slurry as a valuable resource, working with the likes of Philip Huxtable, at JSR, in the 1990s.

Brian was a highly regarded scientist internationally and could translate complex science into easy-to-understand messages, while somehow regularly weaving in references to St James Park. He was always realistic and was prepared to say if something wasn’t right and, coming from a dairy farming family, he could see both sides of the case, understanding each perspective. “They’ll love this back home,” being one of his favourite sayings.

He regularly attended meetings with DEFRA on nitrate regulations, for whom he provided the technical support in negotiations with EC officials in Brussels. If it wasn’t for his input, I’m sure we’d be in a far worse place than we are now.

And, while the end of closed period restricted spreading rates are not popular, they were a compromise we discussed as a counter to the even longer closed periods Brussels wanted. The negotiation achieved a halfway house.

We also asked if the end of closed periods could be linked to the situation and circumstances of each site, for example bringing the end date forward if the ground was dry. Brian took this away, managed to get some money from DEFRA when they had none, and did the research. In this instance the results showed that phosphate leaching was still taking place, so it couldn’t be taken further – but he tried.

He also showed real concern for the state of the industry, especially outdoor pig units, knowing what a challenge the NVZ regulations are. He would regularly tell me that as far as the EC was concerned they weren’t really a problem; a relatively small contribution in the scale of things, and there were bigger issues to tackle. His view to keep leaching to a minimum was to have high stocking rates and compact sites – reducing stocking rates and using more land, as some advocate, wasn’t the thing to do.

More recently, he was part of the groups that were working together to understand greenhouse gas emissions and reducing ammonia from housing and slurry spreading. He was also looking at the possibility of a readily available low-cost novel crop material for bedding pigs. Initial trials with a couple of producers suggested a bit of processing was needed first. We had bounced a few ideas around and he had a trial machine organised ready to start.

The industry has lost a great supporter and friend. This untimely death has shocked those who knew and worked with him. It has also resulted in reflection, and one thing is very clear: if you believe in something, get on and do it!

> Nigel Penlington joined BPEX in 2004 and is the organisation’s environment programme manager. He specialises in environmental issues affecting the UK pig industry and production technology

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