UK farmers facing a ban on the use of fertilisers to reduce emissions

Farmers and growers in the UK face a ban on using solid urea fertiliser, which is responsible for threatening wildflowers and causing significant amounts of air pollution, under a new Clean Air Act. The government estimates that this ban would prevent over one billion GBP worth of damage to health by 2030.

What the ban is about

A consultation started by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in November 2020 stated that the government is set to miss its target of reducing ammonia emissions by 8% from the 2005 levels by the end of 2020. While emissions dropped by 21% between 1990 and 2013, they increased by 10% up to 2017. A ban on the sale or use of urea is the preferred solution, according to Defra, while alternative solutions include:
  • Adding a chemical to the fertiliser to lessen the pollution it causes
  • Limiting the use of the fertiliser to winter when the cool, wet conditions reduce the amount of fertiliser that evaporates

How the ban affects farmers

A ban on urea fertiliser could cost farmers around 132 million GBP up to 2030 and result in an additional 388,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate being used per year. Defra expects that farmers will switch to ammonium nitrate, which is more expensive than urea. However, it evaporates less.

However, ammonium nitrate can be explosive if not stored correctly, as evidenced in the chemical disaster that happened in Beirut in August.

The National Farmers’ Union is thus urging for the ban not to be passed, stating that urea fertiliser is much safer to handle and helps to maintain a competitive fertiliser market. However, that has spurred an investigation about its harmful effects on the environment.

How ammonia impacts the environment

  • Up to half of the urea fertiliser used evaporates, releasing ammonia and other pollutants into the air.
  • Ammonia reacts with other pollutants to form a fine particulate matter, which results in smog.
  • The particles are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs and absorbed by the bloodstream, making it one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.
  • Some of the nitrogen in ammonia also gets deposited in the soil, which promotes the growth of weeds like brambles and nettles and crowds out wildflowers like harebell and birds’-foot trefoil.
  • The soil pollution further causes water contamination through the leaching of nitrogen into groundwater.

Defra presents three cost-effective options to combat the problem:

  • A complete ban on using solid urea fertilisers
  • The introduction of a urease inhibitor – a chemical that helps slow the conversion of urea to ammonium – to stabilise solid urea fertilisers
  • Restrict the spreading of solid urea fertilisers, except between January 15 and March 31.

The consultation reports that the ban on solid urea fertilisers can help the UK achieve 31% of the ammonia reduction target by 2030.

What some charities think

Many UK-based charities also agree with the adverse impact of the fertiliser on the environment. Simon Burkett, the founder of Clean Air, a not-for-profit organisation campaigning for clean air in London, stated that more technical measures and lifestyle changes would be required for the country to reduce ammonia emissions significantly.
Jenny Hawley, sr. policy officer at the wildflower conservation charity group Plantlife, believes that action from landowners, industry and the government would be essential, and that ammonia emissions are causing harm to sensitive habitats. Any changes will need to be made in a way that is realistic and achievable for farmers, but which helps us to achieve our targets for air quality.

How Waste2ES is making a difference

We understand how frustrating it is when the produce sowed and grown by farmers is rejected because it fails to meet quality standards. And let us not forget the aesthetic requirements imposed by consumers. That is wasteful, costly, and completely avoidable.

While farmers cannot control the ban on the use of fertilisers until the National Farmers’ Union wins over the government, there are cost-effective alternative opportunities. 

Use of our iD-R-5K CompactAD with waste food/produce will provide farmers and food producers with PAS110-compliant digestate that can be a source of revenue as an organic fertiliser, subject to pasteurisation module or utilised themselves.

The output from the integrated pasteurisation system can be separated into liquid and dry fractions, enabling better application and is resistant to wash-off.

Our iD-R-5K CompactAD is a circular economic and environmental solution to the farming community. We want to help farmers cut their costs and increase their bottom line by utilising their spoil most beneficially. Interested? If you want to know more about how we can help, write to us at enquiries@waste2es.com.

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