Mark Spencer: Farming must play its part in cutting pollution

April is known for its showers and, as I write, rain is pattering on the windowpane.

But I only have to think back to last summer’s record-breaking temperatures and the ensuing drought to remind myself that maintaining clean, plentiful water supplies is vital – and nowhere more so than on our farms.  

We’ve seen the public desire to tackle water pollution and – with agriculture accounting for 60% of nitrate pollution, and 25% of phosphate pollution, primarily through slurry management – we all need to play our part.

See also: £44m for agriculture in government’s water plan

About the author

Mark Spencer MP is a Nottinghamshire-based farmer and is also the current Defra farming minister.

These chemicals can then wash into rivers and streams and end up in the sea, causing harmful algal blooms along the way, which block sunlight and deplete oxygen – causing huge damage to natural habitats and wildlife.

Slurry also releases large amounts of ammonia into the atmosphere, which returns to the land as nitrogen.

Although the build-up of nitrogen causes certain plants to thrive, it is harmful to others and limits species diversity.   

Slurry grants

Around half of slurry stores in England are not fit for purpose and we know you want to change this – as shown by the huge interest in the first round of our Slurry Infrastructure Grant earlier this year.  

We received over 1,200 initial applications for grants ranging from £25,000 to £250,000 to upgrade slurry storage.

As a result of this high demand, we’ve secured more funding for this initial round. 

We are now able to offer £34m – more than two-and-a-half times the original budget for the grant – to support farmers to build, replace or expand their slurry storage.

Grants can also be put towards other solutions such as lagoons, steel and concrete ring tanks, and large slurry bags. 

This will provide funding to more farmers than we’d initially planned, but for those who miss out, there will be two further rounds running later this year and in 2024. 


The second part of our plan looks at water resources and, to increase our resilience to drought, we need to help farmers adapt to climate change and make better use of the water available.   

That’s why the second round of the Water Management Grant will award farmers one-off amounts to help pay for ways to help store and use water more efficiently – whether through the construction of on-farm reservoirs or by bringing in the latest irrigation equipment.

The £10m for this round will see funding allocated in grants of between £35,000 and £500,000 – ensuring farms of all sizes can receive support.

All of this has the added benefit of saving you money in the long run, by reducing the need to fork out for expensive fertiliser, delivering long-term productivity benefits through improved soil health, and ending the practice of spreading slurry where there is no crop need – and wasting valuable nutrients – due to a lack of suitable storage.  


It’s going to be a truly national effort to shore up our water resources for future generations – and rest assured we are taking water companies to task, bringing in more inspections of their sites and changing the law to increase the scope and maximum amount they can be fined for damaging the environment.  

But there’s no getting away from the fact that pollution from agriculture and rural land is the second most common reason for waterways in England to be classed as “sufficient” or “poor” quality – above pollution from wastewater.

It’s in all our interests to take action now – and I urge you to use one of these rainy days to apply for grants to improve your farm and the environment.  

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