1 March 1996

Help farm waste work – study

CALLS for government to look into supporting large-scale anaerobic digestion, biogas production and composting in a bid to reduce problems of farm waste were made yesterday (Feb 29).

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollutions report "Sustainable Use of Soil" criticised the governments decision to abolish grants for the improvement of waste storage facilities, saying it could lead to further increases in pollution.

Commissioner Henry Fell, who farms near York, said Denmark had taken a lead in Europe in producing biogas fuel to produce electricity from the anaerobic digestion of farm wastes.

With farmers facing growing pressure to improve slurry applications and timing within proposed nitrate vulnerable zones and integrated pollution control legislation, Mr Fell welcomed a pilot biogas scheme in the Tamar valley on the Devon/Cornwall border.

There was also criticism of MAFF over the lack of consultation between farmers, advisers and the research community, and the report called for free advisory advice visits on appropriate measures for the more sustainable use of soils.

The report, which is the first review of soil quality since the 1969 Strutt report, was generally favourable. But concern was expressed at increasing erosion caused by maize being grown on steep-sided slopes, leading to soil spillages on country roads.

MGAproposals

David Thomson, Maize Growers Association spokesman, said the MGA was looking at setting up, later this month, an environmental research and development sector in conjunction with MAFF and the National Rivers Authority.

The report recommended that local authorities made more effective use of their existing powers to recover costs of damage to roads, and suggested better use of buffer strips between cultivated land and watercourses to minimise soil loss. Buffer strips were also important in reducing possible nitrogen and phosphate leaching.

Mr Fell said commissioners were concerned about erosion caused by over-stocking, particularly on moorland common land, and the report welcomed cuts in hill livestock compensatory allowances for overgrazing offenders. It suggested the environmental principle could be extended to arable area payments.

Concern was expressed in the report over the approval process of veterinary products and pesticides. It suggested that greater weight was given to animal welfare than to effects on the environment when products were reviewed.

The report backed lower input farm management systems, including the Less Intensive Farming and the Environment (LIFE) and Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) projects.