Fertiliser reduction targets demanded from government

The link between inorganic fertiliser use in farming and greenhouse gas emissions is being highlighted in a new campaign by the Soil Association, designed to change government policy and influence consumer buying choices.

Called “No net zero without fixing fertiliser”, the campaign includes a petition demanding the government sets a statutory fertiliser reduction target, to reduce agriculture’s use of artificial ammonium nitrate (AN).

See also: What’s in Your Fertiliser Shed? Switch to liquid pays off

“It is shocking that the government’s Net Zero Strategy makes only a passing mention of the impact of fossil fuel-based fertilisers on the climate and environment,” said Soil Association head of farming policy Gareth Morgan.

“Agriculture and the food system are responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and failing to address this will mean the government has simply no prospect of meeting its net-zero target.”


A survey of around 3,600 adults found that only a third of the public are aware of the contribution fossil fuel-based AN makes towards global warming.

Yet nitrous oxide released from fertiliser is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, and remains active 10 times longer than methane, says the Soil Association.

The environmental group admits that conventional farmers cannot be expected to go “cold turkey” on nitrogen.

The campaign therefore calls for government incentives to help wean farmers off artificial AN and towards nature-friendly alternatives, such as farmyard manure, and using legumes and clovers in rotations.

NFU reaction

But it has been challenged by the NFU, which says the campaign is a threat to food security.

 “Manufactured fertiliser is a vital product to help grow the nation’s food and is absolutely crucial in supporting the yield and quality of crops, especially on less fertile soils,” said NFU combinable crops board chair Matt Culley.

“Many farmers and growers will use fertilisers and organic manures alongside each other to maximise the benefit to crop and soil heath, and minimise environmental impacts.

“However, it’s also important to recognise that organic manure is not evenly distributed across the nation, nor available in sufficient quantities to replace manufactured fertiliser.”

The NFU acknowledged that British farming, which produces 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK, has a big part to play in reducing emissions further, and is working towards this goal by increasing use of soil analysis and investing in precision technology to ensure fertiliser is only used where necessary.

Jo Gilbertson, AIC’s head of fertiliser, added that any large-scale shift to organic farming practices would actually mean increased atmospheric and water pollution, caused by expanding cropping areas to produce the same amount of food.

“It would also result in higher food costs and detrimentally impact the UK’s food security,” he said.

Organic September

The “No net zero without fixing fertiliser” campaign has been launched to coincide with Organic September – an annual initiative to promote organic produce among consumers.

“This year’s campaign will urge the public to ‘support organic for climate and nature’ by making one small swap to organic next time they shop,” the Soil Association said.


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