Working to reduce emissions on Scotland’s farms

There are many things within the current political landscape that are easy to disagree on. But one area on which everyone can agree is the importance of clean air for our health and the environment writes NFU Scotland’s Environmental Resources Manager Sarah Cowie. 
With Clean Air Day 2023 taking place on Thursday 15 June, we think reducing impacts on air quality is important. And we want to show leadership in this area. That is why we will promote best practice and highlight scientifically proven methods to reduce emissions. Alongside SEPA, I am delighted to be co-chairing the Agriculture and Environment Working Group for the Scottish Government’s Clean Air for Scotland Strategy. 
a red tractor pulling a trailer of hay through a field
The working group has agreed that measures to prevent and control emissions to air should be incorporated into the updated Prevention of Environmental Pollution from Agricultural Activity (PEPFAA) code that most will be familiar with, and which provides practical guidance on minimising emissions and the risks of environmental pollution from farming operations.
The majority of these emissions come from the application and storage of slurries and manures as well as the application of inorganic nitrogen fertilisers. Being the co-chair of this group allows us to feed into the code of practice as it is being developed. We can also warn against measures that are unworkable and impractical in the real-life farming context. 
Last week, I attended a Royal Society roundtable to discuss the launch of a new report on the effects of net-zero policy and climate change on air quality. 
The report found that while many policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can have a positive effect on air quality, there were some policies which could have negative impacts. 
For example, the use of crops for biofuels, using hydrogen as a combustion fuel, and the combustion of biomass. The report urges policymakers to be cognisant of these potential unintended consequences from emissions and pursue policies which have ‘win wins’ – something we talk a lot about at NFUS.
Also last week, I attended a two-day workshop highlighting the findings of the Amphora project, a scientific research investigation into how reducing air pollution from agriculture could protect public health. Bringing the human health angle into the discussion provided food for thought on the wider social impacts of our industry. 
The work packages looked at the potential measures that farmers could do to reduce ammonia emissions, from covering slurry stores to using low-emission spreading equipment. Another work package looked at the costs and benefits – to agricultural businesses and society at large – of these measures. 
There were no easy answers to these conversations. But what was clear was two things: that as an industry, we need to bring our ammonia emissions down to improve air quality. Ammonia emissions from agriculture accounts for around 90% of total ammonia emissions in Scotland. And unlike emissions from other main air pollutants, they haven’t decreased by much. 
Secondly, that farmers need to be front and centre of this process and be involved in developing practical measures that deliver those ‘win wins.’ primarily for food production and cost savings, as well as climate and biodiversity benefits. 
This article originally appeared on the NFU Scotland website


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