15 June 2001

Over-application of slurry still a widespread problem

THE livestock sector is lagging behind non-agricultural industries in preventing pollution because of a lack of cash to invest in slurry-handling facilities.

Speaking at the LINK workshop, Rob Robinson of the Environment Agency said there had been considerable success in reducing the number of pollution incidents by the livestock industry during the early 1990s. "But over the last two years, this has increased slightly," he added.

"The environmental performance of agriculture is increasingly seen as lagging behind other industries which have invested heavily in nutrient removal equipment. The dairy sector is considered by some as the most polluting industry in the UK."

In 1999, agriculture accounted for 15% of UK pollution incidents, showing that slurry problems had not gone away, he said.

"Over-application of slurry and manure is still a widespread problem and producers should not exceed rates outlined in the Code of Good Practice. Well rotten manure can be applied in autumn, but slurry should wait until spring, when possible.

"There is evidence that nutrients are not being fully used, and many producers are unaware of their large phosphorus surplus. Nutrient budgeting should be adopted more widely as a tool for managing inputs."

Mr Robinson was also concerned about nutrient losses due to soil erosion, associated with maize crops and heavily poached fields. "In one experiment, chisel ploughing was found to be effective in reducing run-off from maize stubble from 228 litres/ha to virtually none," he said.

"Undersowing maize was also effective, but alternative cover crops were less so."

However, despite an increasing belief that organic farming is the solution to all environmental problems, pollution incidents have also occurred on organic farms. Mr Robinson identified outdoor pig production as a major problem too, with high nitrogen and phosphorus loading onto land and extensive soil erosion.

"The main issue which needs addressing is who will pay the extra cost for reducing pollution, as agriculture is a cash-strapped industry. Should it be through higher prices for products or direct payments to cover the extra cost?"

The Environment Agency wanted to see a switch of emphasis in farming support payments from production to resource protection, he said. &#42

Over-application of slurry and manure is still a widespread problem, according to Rob Robinson.