THE government has launched an ambitious new strategy to clean up our air – which includes a commitment to support farmers’ efforts to tackle air pollution.

The Government said that agriculture was responsible for 88% of UK emissions of ammonia gas, which can travel long distances, be damaging to the environment, and combine with other pollutants to form fine Particulate Matter pollution, which are harmful to human health.

The measures set out in the Clean Air Strategy will help cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

Farming Minister and St Ives MP, George Eustice, said: “Ammonia emissions can have a significant impact on the environment and on our health, and as custodians of the land, farmers have an important role to play in reducing them.

“Our future agriculture policy will involve financial rewards and incentives to help farmers reduce their ammonia emissions.”

Under the new strategy the Government will provide farmers with support to invest in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions and will work with industry to encourage low emission, holistic farming techniques.

Funding has been available through the Countryside Productivity Scheme to help farmers purchase manure management equipment including low-emission spreaders and the scheme is due to run again in 2019. Funding is also available through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for slurry tank and lagoon covers for farmers in priority water catchments.

In September 2018 the government launched a new £3 million programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists who work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide training events, tailored advice, individual farm visits and support with grant applications.

The Agriculture Bill already sets out how future financial support for the farming sector will be focussed on delivering improvements to the environment. The Government proposes that a future environmental land management system should fund targeted action to protect habitats impacted by ammonia. Natural England is already examining options to improve the effectiveness of schemes for mitigating ammonia emissions in protecting these habitats.

Marian Spain, Natural England interim chief executive said: “Natural England has a team of experts poised to support farmers to take action which will help improve our environment and safeguard our precious natural habitats from the damaging effects of nitrogen pollution.

“We are committed to making sure that future agriculture schemes mean farmers businesses can work in harmony with the natural environment and ensure wildlife can be enjoyed by future generations. And Natural England teams are already, through the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme, working on the ground providing essential advice and guidance to farmers to tackle pollution to water, land and the air.”

With partners, Natural England will be running a series of farm demonstration events in February and March to show what can be done to reduce ammonia emissions. Free training and advice will be available to help support farmers to, for example, make choices about investment in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions.

Reacting to the announcement, Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, said: “The Soil Association welcomes the government’s recognition in the new Clean Air Strategy of the need to tackle the serious issue of ammonia emissions from farming, and the resulting negative impacts on public health.

“It is critical that all the causes of air pollution are addressed, and while UK emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by about 70%, due to measures to control air pollution in the last two decades, ammonia emissions have remained stubbornly high and recently started increasing again.

“Ammonia emissions in the UK can be very harmful to the lungs, particularly for those already vulnerable, such as young children, and can also have a detrimental impact on biodiversity as wildlife is also affected. As farming is the source of around 82% of UK ammonia emissions, we recognise that changes in farming practice are necessary in tackling this issue and this will involve both government regulation and support.

“There is a higher risk of ammonia emissions with intensive livestock production methods, since emission rates increase at higher stocking densities, so it is vital that the strategy sets out government actions to support and promote a wider shift towards more extensive farming systems, such as grass-based systems and organic, which have higher animal welfare standards and lower stocking-densities.

“However, we recognise that if poorly managed, all types of farming system can cause ammonia pollution and we want to work with government to ensure this Strategy translates into a plan to ensure farmers adopt practices that transform nitrogen from being a pollutant to being an effective source of fertility. This can range from better storage of animal manures, better methods to incorporate animal manures under the surface of soils, using trees to capture the emissions and the adoption of more effective ventilation systems.

“The ambition in the strategy will only be realised if government introduces new food and farming policies that specifically support the shift away from intensive livestock production methods that generate high levels of waste; and also measures to reduce the use of artificial nitrogen-based fertiliser, which is banned in organic farming. Support is also urgently needed for agroecological techniques, such as organic; along with encouragement to shift towards less but better meat consumption.”