In January the government released the Clean Air Strategy, which outlines the targets, measures and legislation that the government will use to reduce air pollution over the coming years. As with other recent policy publications, the strategy is built on the premise that a healthy environment underpins a healthy population, which in turn supports a healthy economy.

By introducing measures to reduce air pollution across a range of sectors – from farming to transport – the government claim that the strategy will cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

This summary will focus on the implications of the strategy for farmers.



In the agricultural sector, the primary focus of the strategy is on reducing ammonia emissions, which will be achieved through a series of measures and support options aimed largely at livestock producers.
Farming is responsible for 88% of ammonia emissions, which contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory health problems, as well as causing damage to ecosystems.

Of these emissions, almost 50% come from nitrogen fertiliser and manure application, while another 27% arise from livestock housing. Outdoor grazing, by contrast, is responsible for just 8% of emissions.

The plan includes:

  • A requirement to take action to reduce emissions from urea-based fertilisers. Farmers Weekly reports that by 2020 farmers will be required to use urease inhibitors unless applied by injection on appropriate land.
  • All solid manure and solid digestate spread to bare land (other than that managed in a no-till system) to be incorporated rapidly (within 12 hours)
  • A requirement to spread slurries and digestate using low-emission spreading equipment (trailing shoe or trailing hose or injection) by 2025. This requirement may be introduced sooner for farms spreading large volumes of digestate or slurry.
  • A requirement for slurry and digestate stores to be covered by 2027. This too may be introduced sooner for farms producing or storing large volumes of digestate or slurry.
  • Similar controls for the largest dairy farms to those currently applied to intensive pig and poultry units under the environmental permitting regime by 2025. Cattle farming accounts for 48% of UK agricultural ammonia emissions (28% from dairy and 20% beef), and 54% of UK agricultural GHG emissions. The sector is also the worst offender for water pollution across all industries.)
  • The requirement and support for farmers to make investments in farm infrastructure and equipment that will reduce emissions.
  • Mandatory design standards will be for new livestock housing by 2022 – with standards covering at least poultry, pig and dairy housing.
  • A national code of good agricultural practice to reduce ammonia emissions.


Nitrogen Fertilisers

Sources of ammonia also cause nitrate and phosphate pollution, and the strategy suggests that plans are being developed to ‘limit input of nitrogen rich fertilisers to economically efficient levels’. To achieve this, they propose an integrated approach, with clear rules, advice and financial support, to reduce use of inorganic fertiliser and prioritise the use of organic fertilisers.

Farmers Weekly report that a maximum limit for both organic and inorganic fertiliser application will be intro0duced, though do not say where this limit will be set.


Financial Support

The strategy is partially unclear about what financial support will be available for the requested changes many farmers will have to make. It makes reference to the potential role of the future Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) - which will replace both BPS and Countryside Stewardship after Brexit – in providing support for farmers to move towards practices which limit fertiliser use and emissions. It also suggests that ELMS could fund targeted action to protect habitats impacted by ammonia.

In September, the government launched a £3m programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists who work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide training events, tailored advice, individual farm visits and support with grant applications.