Netherlands insights could reduce UK ammonia emissions

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

British farmers and industry experts visited the Netherlands to learn how the country has reduced ammonia emissions by making changes on farm.

The visit formed part of AHDB, Defra and the NFU’s commitment to work together to find solutions, as the country develops new strategies to meet its international environmental commitments.

The fact-finding tour highlighted that there are cost-effective steps British farmers can make to deliver short-term improvements, which bring both environmental benefits and improve herd health and welfare.

Paul Tompkins a dairy farmer on the trip, said: “Simple methods such as managing nitrogen levels and excess protein in feed could not only substantially reduce ammonia emissions per animal, but also save farmers money as their feeding system is better optimised.

“In the Netherlands, improving manure spreading techniques has made the most significant contribution to the reduction in ammonia emissions from farms. It is compulsory for Dutch farmers to use techniques, such as rapidly incorporating manure into soils, slurry dribble bars and injectors. Although many UK farmers have already adopted these techniques, we need to see more rapid uptake in order to achieve the emission improvements."

The Netherlands have strict regulations on new farm buildings. Farmers can only use approved systems that have been tested and certified to help reduce ammonia. The legislation means all new dairy housing now has to meet emission standards of 8.6kgNH3 per cow place per year, down from a standard initially more than 12kgNH3 per year. In the UK there are no limits at the present time.

AHDB Environment and Buildings Manager David Ball, said: “It is important for us to understand the science and practical implications of how to reduce ammonia from livestock production. This study tour certainly provided us with that, we can learn from others and provide clarity for farmers faced with change.”

During the trip, Dutch farmers showcased innovative ideas, from low emissions flooring that drains urine away quickly and improves foot health for cows, to slats with small flaps attached to allow slurry down but also stop gas rising. A trip to Wageningen University also provided insight into the pioneering research taking the industry forward.

Commenting on the visit NFU Dairy Adviser Verity Richards, said: “The tour was a great opportunity to see how Dutch farmers have adapted to meet ammonia emission legislation. It provided vital insight into potential challenges and demonstrated the need for a holistic approach to tackling ammonia”. 

“The farmers on the tour represented a variety of different systems, which helped to highlight the need for a range of options to help UK farmers reduce emissions, using techniques that suit their system, size and geographical location,” she added.

Agricultural ammonia emissions are a key priority for the proposed Clean Air Strategy, with a £3 million, three-year commitment from Defra to support and advise farmers on effective ways to reduce ammonia emissions on farm.

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