A working group commissioned by Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture has published several recommendations to curb the problem of excess ammonia.

The recommendations include proposals to ban splashplate slurry spreading by 2025 and banning the sale of new splashplate spreaders by 2020.

The group said the issue had reached a level of “acute pressure” causing delays in agricultural planning applications.

Key mitigating measures recommended also include: planting forest around livestock units; maintaining a cleaner farmyard; extending the grazing season; covering slurry lagoons; and applying slurry earlier in the season as well as ditching Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) in favour of stablised urea fertilisers.

It also recommended reducing the crude protein intake of cattle and also using more efficient breeds such as Stabiliser.

The recommendations are mainly based on trials across the UK and Ireland. The group recommends that further research is carried out on pilot farms to test the combined impact.

Why now?

The report stated inventory figures showed 12% of the UK’s ammonia emissions come from Northern Ireland – a region which accounts for just 3% of the UK population and 6% of the UK’s land area.

Of this, 91% of all ammonia emissions in the region were found to have resulted from agriculture.

Ammonia levels peaked in the region 20 years ago and hit their lowest in 2010; the worry is renewed as levels have begun to increase again – rising by 9% since 2010.

Increased ammonia levels have an adverse impact on low-nitrogen environments, in particular bogland and mosses.

14 months in the working

The report – which is titled ‘Making Ammonia Visible’ – took 14 months to complete and was prepared by an expert working group chaired by Dr. John Gilliland OBE, a former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union.

The group consisted of individual experts from the farming, environment, supply chain and government sectors, including five farmers from various sectors.

It previously published the ‘Sustainable Agricultural Land Management Strategy for Northern Ireland’.

No projections have yet been made into the cost of any of the measures.

‘Action on all farms’

Speaking at a press briefing, Gilliland said: “Much effort is required to improve both the measurement of ammonia emissions and the way in which these emissions are taken into account in the regulatory regime.

While it is vital that these matters are addressed, that should not detract from the inescapable conclusion that Northern Ireland agriculture must take practical and sustained action urgently to reduce its ammonia emissions.

“In order to properly address our ammonia issue and put the NI farming industry on a sustainable pathway, it is crucial that the background levels of ammonia right across the industry are reduced.

“This will require action on all farms and mirrors the approach taken in the Republic of Ireland where the focus has been on reducing total ammonia emissions across the country.”