Cheshire dairy farmer Robert Brunt explains how he is investing in nitrogen management to increase productivity and reduce the impact on the environment. But at a time of low farmgate prices, the practicalities of such measures must be easy and cost-effective.
As my children grow up and take an interest in the farm it becomes more important to me that there is a future in the dairy industry. However, given current and ongoing investments within the industry at a time of depressed prices I find it very difficult to see how, as an industry we can achieve strict ammonia targets in a cost effective way, while continuing to do what we do best… producing food.
Let me tell you about what we’ve been doing on our farm so far.
We have invested to improve productivity but also to increase efficiency in our use of nutrients such as nitrogen and reduce our environmental impact. We regularly test the grass and silage forage stocks so we can best balance the feed ration and use silage additives to get the best types of fermentation.
In winter we use yeasts to boost the right bacteria in the rumen to get the best results from the lowest inputs and we monitor the excess protein coming through the cows in the form of a urea test in the milk. We also have a computerised feeding system in the parlour that records milk yields and adjusts feeding on a daily basis within set perimeters.
In order to comply with the Nitrates Directive, we have invested heavily in structures over the past three years. An open feeding yard has been covered over and an existing slurry store – an area of around 600 square metres for clean and dirty water separation – making a saving of 600,000 litres of slurry a year. This costs our business around £55,000.We were fortunate to receive a grant from Catchment Sensitive Farming of around £20,000 towards the cost. We have also recently replaced and extended an old dilapidated building and put a slurry tank underneath it, containing high welfare cubicles.
From my perspective any progress towards reducing my emissions needs to be manageable and affordable.
Looking at the practicalities of some of the changes in practices that may be suggested by the amendments to the National Emissions Ceilings Directive, some of these low emission spreading approaches could be difficult to use. The equipment is very costly, contractors charge high rates, narrow roads and huge equipment do not go together and shallow injecting opens the turf and allows weed seeds to germinate.
Having said that, trends in changes in practices are going in the right direction and improvements in efficiencies in our sector will continue to be made. But from my perspective any progress towards reducing my emissions needs to be manageable and affordable.
That is why I joined an NFU delegation to speak to MEPs at the European Parliament where we set out the actions already taken by farmers in reducing methane and ammonia emissions and the challenges we face in drastically reducing them further while maintaining current levels of food production.
It is vital when future targets and legislation is set that the challenges and existing measures are taken into account a long with a healthy dollop of common sense.
:: Robert is also a member of the NFU's Environment Forum - find out more here.