May 2014: Reducing farming’s role in climate change

As I write, the country is shrouded in a gloomy fog. We’ve had warnings from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that human behaviour is changing the climate. Perhaps the smog has been sent to reinforce the message, seeing as the issue tends to largely go unnoticed.

Unfortunately, the UK has just been infracted by the European Commission (EC) for failing on air quality limits, not from farming directly, but vehicle emissions.

Farming is, however, also deemed part of the problem. Ammonia released from nitrogen fertilisers and livestock manures not only causes acid rain, but also reacts with other compounds in the air to form very fine particles that damage respiratory tracts. So, although this time the news reports are focusing on vehicle traffic, we need to be on guard.

We know that the EC has farming in its sights, as any of you who attended the recent BPEX workshops on the environment will have heard. Proposals are on the cards to introduce legislation combining elements of both NVZ and IPPC legislation across all 28 member states, closing the legislative gap by the back door.

We’re talking to Defra regarding implications on the ground. It’s early days, and for those in NVZs and IPPC it’s unlikely to make much difference. For those not in NVZs, however, there’ll be some levelling of the playing field concerning closed periods and how nitrogen in manures or slurries is accounted for, plus there’s the thorny issue of slurry storage periods.

Low-trajectory slurry spreading will be required, and the days of splash plates are numbered, increasing costs for some. Slurry stores will have to be covered, that will present cost and operational implications for some producers.

The big-ticket item is the proposal to require all livestock housing to be low-emission types. Luckily, many of our existing housing systems are managing to tick that box, but much depends on the outcomes of the EC revising a document called the BREF that outlines pig production’s “Best Available Techniques”. These will include what exactly low-emission housing is.

We’re at the table on this one, and luckily not battling alone. The NFU’s Anna Simpson, formerly of BPEX, is representing the European farming unions, along with myself and the Environment Agency.

My dairy and beef colleagues are looking at all of this in absolute horror, but luckily we have a better understanding and state of readiness on account of our IPPC experiences, so hopefully we can limit the impact.

The environment team has been attending workshops organised by the BPEX knowledge transfer managers; thank you to all those who have taken the time to attend. Your contributions really help us to stay in touch with reality and identify things you’d like us to address.

> 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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