NI top of Europe’s ‘ammonia league’

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Northern Ireland vies for top spot across Europe when it comes to the levels of ammonia emissions created by our farming sectors, according to Dr Elizabeth Magowan who heads-up the Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences division at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

“Satellite imagery confirms this,” she said.

“Northern Ireland stands out like a deep red beacon, when compared to other countries and regions of Europe.

“The current levels of ammonia emissions constitute a real challenge for our livestock farming sectors moving forward. AFBI has been commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to come up with ways of reducing this burden and to mitigate the impact of the ammonia produced by our farming businesses.”

Dr Magowan spoke at an event hosted for members of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists of Ireland at AFBI Hillsborough earlier this week.

The UK is required to meet ammonia emission reduction targets set by international legislation, which is independent of the UK leaving the EU.

Northern Ireland currently accounts for 12% of the UK’s ammonia emissions. Of this figure, 93% is derived from local agriculture.

Magowan outlined the current suite of AFBI research projects now underway, all aimed at targeting the ammonia challenge. One of the most innovative of these has been the establishment of a real-time weather and ammonia and monitoring site at the AFBI Hillsborough farm.

“This will give us minute-by-minute information on the ammonia levels in the air at the Hillsborough site,” said Magowan.

In turn, this will allow us to relate the impact of activities such as slurry spreading and mixing plus cattle movements, where ammonia production is concerned.

“The plan is to make the real-time information from the new monitoring site accessible to members of the general public, courtesy of the AFBI web site. This work is at an advanced stage. Our expectation is that the project will go live in the autumn.”

Dr Magowan made it clear that it should be possible for production agriculture to evolve in Northern Ireland in ways that allow the industry to fully comply with its environmental obligations.

“It’s all about finding the sweet spot,” she stressed.

The AFBI scientist also confirmed that farming and food in Northern Ireland needs continuing access to specifically targeted research programmes.

“This need has never been greater,” she added.

“Many of the businesses at the heart of our farming and food sectors are small to medium sized enterprises.

“By their very nature they cannot afford to directly fund the research projects that will deliver a direct benefit for them.

“This means that government must look at ways of ensuring the ongoing competitiveness of the farming and food industries.”

AFBI currently operates on the back of a £60m annual budget. This figure is approximately two-thirds’ funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

“We secure £20m from other sources including £14m from royalties generated by the development of animal vaccines and new grass varieties,” said Dr Magowan.

Looking to the future, the AFBI representative believes that DAERA remains committed to funding of new science and fully recognises the need to support ongoing research that meets the specific requirements of farming and food.

This commitment will be mapped out courtesy of a new science strategy document, which will be published by DAERA in a few weeks’ time.