Can the UK’s Clean Air Strategy improve the livestock sector?

The country’s drive to reduce ammonia emissions from livestock has had a positive reception from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists keen to introduce new technology to catalyze change.

The UK Clean Air Strategy will accelerate the need for change in the livestock production sector, Adam Anders managing partner at Anterra Capital told Agri Investor in an exclusive interview.

The strategy, published this week, aims to cut ammonia emissions from manure in the livestock sector and inorganic fertilizers, claiming agriculture is responsible for 88 percent of emissions. Targets for an 8 percent cut by 2020 against a 2005 baseline, rising to 16 percent by 2030, are set out, achieved by imposing restrictions on spreading manure and slurry.

The plan requires that slurries and digestate are spread using low-emission spreading equipment by 2025, with support to farmers to invest in infrastructure and equipment. Regulations forcing farmers to use low-emission farming techniques and to minimize pollution from fertilizer use are also included in the plan.

Consultations on reducing emissions from urea-based fertilizers in 2019 will be conducted, with a view to introducing legislation. Mandatory design standards for new intensive poultry, pig and beef livestock housing and for dairy housing are also set out.

Talking exclusively to Agri Investor, Adam Anders said: “The strategy will accelerate the need for change in the livestock production sector – an area of environmental concern and increasing consumer concern. It is an issue where entrepreneurs and venture capital investors are increasingly turning their attention. Introducing new technology in this sector will result in benefits for society and the entrepreneurs that lead this transformation.”

Anders added: “Interesting examples include Ascus and Recombinetics who are focused on biotech innovations around animal health and productivity or Connecterra and Cainthus who are looking at how the digitalization of livestock farming can help make the production process more efficient.”

“It is good that the UK government is working on this area, particularly trying to reduce the effect of ammonia gas from manure,” said Roberto Vitón managing director of Valoral Advisors.

Funding is also available through the Countryside Productivity Scheme in 2019 to help farmers purchase manure-management equipment such as low-emission spreaders as well as through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for slurry tank and lagoon covers, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said. The government also last September launched a £3 million ($3.8 million; €3.4 million) program to give tailored advice through the Catchment Sensitive Farming partnership, through which Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England work with farmers and a range of other partners to improve water and air quality in high-priority areas.

In addition, a future environmental land management system will fund targeted action to protect habitats affected by ammonia, Defra added. While UK agriculture minister George Eustice said: “Future agricultural policy will involve financial rewards and incentives to help farmers reduce their ammonia emissions.”

The strategy, which currently only applies to England, was applauded by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. It was also welcomed by the Country Land and Business Association, although chief land use policy adviser Susan Twining said: “It is vital to ensure that any future regulation will enable farm businesses to remain economically viable.”

Head of Farming at Strutt and Parker Will Gemmill also agreed with the strategy’s principles, saying it will ensure better practices and technologies are used, helping government to meet its climate change targets.

Meanwhile, National Farmers’ Union deputy president Guy Smith called for more time to be allocated to allow farmers to make these changes. He is concerned about extending environmental permitting to dairy farms and questioned what government means by “intensive” beef farms, saying changes must not restrict growth, raise production costs or put UK beef and dairy sectors at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the world.