Defra farming minister issues stark warning over urea

Defra farming minister Mark Spencer has warned farm leaders that should they fail to introduce an industry scheme to reduce ammonia emissions from urea this year, then the government will impose regulations.

The original plan, put forward by the industry, was that untreated urea should only be used by farmers from 15 January to 31 March each year, with any product spread after 1 April having to be treated with a urease inhibitor to slow the release of ammonia.

This was due to come in last year but, due to the spike in fertiliser prices caused by the Ukraine war, Defra agreed to delay it until 1 April 2023.

See also: Tesco to trial low-carbon fertilisers with five growers

With that deadline fast approaching, Mr Spencer wrote to the NFU and other stakeholders on an industry consortium this week, warning against further delays.

In the letter, he notes that the fertiliser price has “reduced considerably” since last autumn, while “good progress” has been made in the availability of urea treated with urease inhibitors.


But he still warns of a substantial increase in ammonia emissions this growing season, which runs counter to the government’s legal commitment to cut pollution.

Mr Spencer said that an industry scheme, involving Red Tractor auditing, was still his “preferred option”, with sanctions in place from autumn 2023.

“However, if the industry scheme is not implemented this year, government will need to regulate to reduce ammonia emissions from this source,” he said.

“I would therefore be grateful if the consortium could provide a response by the end of March setting out whether or not the scheme will go ahead.”

The letter was sent ahead of a meeting with the consortium on Wednesday (22 March).


Following that meeting, NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said the consortium had sought a further delay, and had agreed that a new industry scheme would be fully implemented by April 2024.

“From my perspective, that’s still far better than an outright ban, as we have the price competitiveness of untreated urea in the fertiliser market, which is absolutely essential to try to keep some transparency,” he said.

“We do recognise that Defra has got these commitments to reduce ammonia emissions and as an industry we have a responsibility to help, so as to avoid regulation,” he added.

“But even though the fertiliser price has come down, the market is still nowhere near where it was.”

A spokesman for the Agricultural Industries Confederation – also part of the consortium – suggested the new industry scheme would be in place by autumn 2023, but inhibited urea would not really be used in most farm situations until the following spring anyway.

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