The NFU has been holding high-level talks with the Environment Agency on two farms in the South East.
EA acting chairman, Emma Howard Boyd, and acting deputy chairman, Richard Macdonald, met with NFU President Meurig Raymond. The group, which also included representatives of the NFU environment team, visited leading food producer Fridays Ltd and salad specialists LJ Betts.
Staff at Fridays demonstrated how they are achieving significant nature conservation gains having planted 14,000 native trees on their Combwell Farm site and implementing a habitat management plan. The site has one of the largest ranging areas for free range chickens in Europe and the tiered laying facility mimics many features of the natural environment through appropriate lighting, temperature and perching sites within the sheds akin to trees.
Mr Raymond discussed the difficulties that pig and poultry units face in achieving IPPC consent while Malcom Friday explained how poultry units can risk not being granted consent where EA models predict risks from odour and ammonia emissions. He explained that new ventilation and belt cleaning technology is now more efficient than the model predictions.
A programme of environmental improvements has been agreed with the Environment Agency at Combwell to include a 61% reduction in ammonia emissions, through better drainage, the creation of tree buffers around each building and more efficient manure collection.
The deep pit system in the existing buildings will be replaced by a new conveyor belt system, alongside mechanical ventilation, which will reduce the potential for fly and odour generation.
Fridays are also proposing to reduce their carbon emissions by incorporating solar photovoltaic panels on the South-facing roof elevations.
In the afternoon, LJ Betts hosted an open exchange of views on abstraction reform, licence trading and trickle irrigation rules.
Farm manager Nick Ottewell explained how they produced over 8,500 tonnes of lettuce in 2015 - at 60 litres of irrigation water per kilo this amounts to 270,000 cubic metres of water. They are just about able to cope with this but demand for lettuce and salad is growing.
The Chief Executive from Southern Water, Matthew Wright, told the delegation that Southern Water is constructing a new water re-use scheme which could make more than 20 million litres available per day in the Medway catchment. This has the potential to double the amount of water available to growers in Kent by 2022.
Meurig Raymond said the industry was looking at the relationship between greater food security and future risks from water demand and drought risk, with an eye on how regulatory constraints affect businesses opportunity and growth.
He said that farming needs a fair allocation of water, easy ability to trade to gain access to more water and the right financial incentives so that farmers can invest in their own water storage.
LJ Betts take environmental issues seriously, participate in an agri-environment scheme, have a farm biodiversity plan and have invested in renewable energy.