Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

How farmers can best manage air quality and ammonia levels

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How farmers can best manage air quality and ammonia levels

The issue of ammonia and air quality control is one that is currently troubling environmental regulators and farmers alike, especially in Northern Ireland where rising ammonia levels are of particular concern.

Agriculture, specifically animal husbandry, is the largest source of ammonia release in the UK. Northern Ireland is responsible for 12% of UK ammonia emissions, despite only having 3% of the UK population and 6% of the land area.

NetRegs provides guidance for farmers seeking to reduce the levels of ammonia their farm produces. Read on to find out why ammonia is such an important issue and what can be done to prevent its release.


Why is ammonia important?

Ammonia is a pollutant that is known to have a damaging impact on biodiversity (including sensitive habitats), ecosystem reliance, and human health. It is created during a number of common farming activities, for example the housing of livestock, storage, spreading of manure and application of fertilisers.

Ammonia is of particular concern in Northern Ireland, which produces a disproportionate amount of the substance compared to its overall population. Reducing ammonia emissions across Northern Ireland is currently a key priority for Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).


Why should farmers be controlling ammonia levels?

Agriculture in Northern Ireland produces an overwhelming 93% of the country’s total ammonia emissions, which mainly comes from slurry and fertiliser management and application. The intensive pig and poultry sectors have been subject to ammonia regulations for years; however, the cattle sector currently produces the majority (70%) of emissions.

Most of Northern Ireland is receiving nitrogen levels that are significantly above its ‘critical load’. This is the concentration level at which significant ecological damage can occur, especially to protected sites home to sensitive plants like lichens and mosses.

Aside from the ecological impact, scientists are increasingly concerned about the effects of ammonia release on human health. When inhaled, ammonia can cause burns and swelling in the airways, lung damage and skin and eye damage – in extreme cases it can even be fatal.


How can farmers manage their air quality and ammonia levels?

There are a range of methods that farmers can employ to reduce the quantities of ammonia their farming produces and subsequently improve the air quality of the surrounding environment. Here are NetRegs’ five top tips for the best practice of managing ammonia levels:

  1. Remove slurry from your collection system regularly, and clean affected areas as often as possible – this prevents the build-up of ammonia levels and resulting air pollution. Cover slurry stores with a tight lid.
  2. Inspect and maintain livestock drinkers and troughs to prevent leaks as water will increase ammonia release in manure
  3. Minimise the amount of mixing between urine and faeces as ammonia forms when these mix – for example, consider installing grooved flooring in cattle houses to channel urine
  4. Always spread slurry in cool, windless and damp conditions to prevent the circulation of ammonia
  5. Switch from using urea-based fertilisers to ammonium nitrate


What are your environmental responsibilities regarding ammonia and air quality?

DAERA has highlighted the importance of maintaining a balanced approach when managing ammonia levels and air quality in Northern Ireland, which will support a thriving agri-food industry while also protecting the environment. DAERA has produced a new Code setting out voluntary best practice measures aimed at reducing ammonia levels:

DAERA: The Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Reduction of Ammonia Emissions

All farmers in Northern Ireland must follow the rules set out in the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) to reduce the impact of pollutants on the environment. Compliance is essential to avoid prosecution and possible fines, but also to meet the requirements of some of DAERA’s payment schemes.

DERA: The Nutrient Action Programme

DAERA has also published an information note for farmers which sets out the changes to the NAP for 2019-2022

DAERA: NAP 2019-2022 Information for Farmers on the changes to NAP and New Measures  


For full details on how best to manage your farm’s air quality and ammonia production, visit NetRegs today – we also provide details of the legal requirements of farmers in Northern Ireland.

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