Why Is Muck Spreading Bad for the Environment?
Feb 19 2019
The UK government announced new plans and legislation to combat air pollution at the start of 2019. Government officials believe these plans go beyond existing EU rules, pledging to improve air quality nationwide in line with World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended standards.
The new regulations include changes which will affect farmers across the UK. One such ruling is the ban on muck-spreading, or the agricultural practice of spraying fields with liquid manure. Muck spreading as a practice has been used for centuries to spread nutrients to crops and produce better quality yields year-round.
However, the new air pollution strategy includes a renewed focus on reducing ammonia emissions, a powerful pollutant that can cause health issues – and is also a serious concern in aquaculture. As a key source of ammonia, animal manure is now high on the list of main areas that the government is targeting with this new air pollution plan.
Damaging the environment
Ammonia emissions are on the rise, with more than four fifths coming from agriculture. Current muck-spreading practice sees farmers spraying fields with slurry, a thick liquid mixture of manure, using a process known as ‘splash plate’. This tactic spreads the slurry quickly, covering entire fields with the mixture.
However, in order to protect the environment and human health, a Defra spokesperson announced new regulations that require farmers to spread slurry “using only low-emission spreading equipment, such as trailing shoe, trailing horse or injection” as of 2025. This ensures the manure enters the soil only where it is most effective and significantly reduces its air exposure.
Professor Mark Sutton, an environmental physicist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology regarded this new announcement as “the most significant document on controlling ammonia emissions that the government has ever produced”. He agrees that the spraying of slurry in its current form “probably should be banned” in order to reduce the impact agricultural farming has on our environment.
Help for farmers
The government has also announced that they will do everything they can to support farmers through this process, helping them to change their practices and, if necessary, renew their equipment. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) sees this help as vital if changes are to be made, stating that they need “considerable financial support” to make the necessary alterations.
NFU deputy president, Guy Smith, believes that more detail is needed on how the changes are going to be made without significantly raising costs for farmers nationwide, arguing that the new plans would “put the UK beef and dairy sectors at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world”.
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