NFU Dairy Board chair responds to Guardian article on water quality

Environment and climate
Paul Tompkins

NFU Dairy Board chair Paul Tompkins has written to the Guardian in a response to an article claiming UK dairy farms are “ignoring pollution rules”.

The article – ‘Most UK dairy farms ignoring pollution rules as manure spews into rivers’ – quotes Environment Agency figures between 2020 and 2021, stating that 69% of a total of 2,475 dairy farms inspected “were in breach of environmental regulations, according to new data released under freedom of information laws”.

It says campaigners have said “pricing pressures from supermarkets, where farmers are offered very little for milk, have caused producers to intensify their production by increasing the number of cows they keep”.

The NFU has written to the Guardian to highlight the complexity of water quality issues and the “huge efforts” undertaken by farmers to improve water quality.

Read the letter below:

To the editor,

The reasons for water quality issues are often complex and we cannot simply conflate statistics on dairy farm businesses with river pollution, as each river catchment is different, with different activities and industries to take into consideration. (‘Most UK dairy farms ignoring pollution rules as manure spews into rivers’).

Any breach of the regulations must be swiftly corrected and indeed actively avoided by all dairy farmers. Breaches can include cases where farmers fall down on a single regulation which can be remedied quickly and does not lead to a pollution incident. Dairy farmers care about Britain’s rivers and want to see them thriving, which includes making improvements to the quality of the water.

The industry will continue its huge efforts to improve water quality through a range of best practice measures such as careful management and storage of fertiliser and manure. However, the ability to invest in on-farm infrastructure to reduce pollution incidences is also key. Greater access to government schemes such as the Slurry Infrastructure Grant and a reduction in planning restrictions on farm are both vital to enable dairy producers to invest in slurry storage improvements and infrastructure to further protect watercourses.

We know more can be done on farms to improve water quality and dairy farmers across the country are committed to continuing to work with government and regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency to drive improvements and play their part in protecting the health of the nation’s rivers.

Paul Tompkins, NFU Dairy Board chair

NFU members, join our Environment and climate community to comment

Ask us a question about this page

Once you have submitted your query someone from NFU CallFirst will contact you. If needed, your query will then be passed to the appropriate NFU policy team.

You have 0 characters remaining.

By completing the form with your details on this page, you are agreeing to have this information sent to the NFU for the purposes of contacting you regarding your enquiry. Please take time to read the NFU’s Privacy Policy if you require further information.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.