01 June 2018

In a statement the Environment Agency reported: “Agriculture uses 70 per cent of the land and farmers have a major impact on the environment. Most farmers act responsibly and we work with the industry to respond to incidents, tackle the root causes of pollution and promote good practice.

“But where farmers are responsible for serious pollution incidents, we will not hesitate to take enforcement action, including prosecution. Agriculture is the single biggest source of serious pollution incidents and all farmers have a duty to prevent it.”

The only way a farmer can dispose of the farm effluent, swollen by heavy rainfalls, is to spread it on grassland intended for conservation or on tillage areas – but this cannot be done if the land is already saturated or if the ground is frozen, due to problems of run-off.

Could there yet be light at the end of the tunnel?

Addressing the North Pembrokeshire Grassland Society, John Owen, farm manager of the Coleg Sir Gâr’s Gelli Aur campus, revealed details of an innovative project underway to address the agricultural industry's impact on the environment by developing an effective dewatering and purification system to manage slurry.

The project, now at an advanced stage of development at the College farm, has received funding through the Welsh Government’s Rural Communities Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for rural Development and the Welsh Government.

The project, being spearheaded by a Swansea based company specialising in electrochemical-based water treatments, will apply innovative and proven concept technology to reduce air and water pollution to reduce the overall volume of slurry by up to 80 per cent.

A de-watering and purification system is used to filter slurry, transforming the water to a suitable quality for recycling or discharging to a clean watercourse.

The system will also utilise nutrients from the slurry to produce good quality fertiliser.

The project also aims to design, develop and validate an economically viable system that will be made available commercially and used on farms.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) states that the number of pollution incidents caused by dairy and beef farms across Wales has fluctuated between 85 and 120 for each of the last six years.

Wet winters and a significant downturn in the dairy market have added to the pressure on the environment and farmers; reducing their capacity to invest in slurry and silage store management and over 60 per cent of the incidents involving pollution during the last three years took place within the milk field of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

Under the threat of coming within a nitrate vulnerable zone, farmers and researchers have long struggled to find a lasting solution by developing a workable, cost-effective form of separating the solids from the liquids.

John Owen explained that the technique, now being perfected, takes advantage of the fact that manure, like almost everything else in biology, is made up mostly of water. Extracting that water can reduce the sheer volume enormously, making it easier to store and discard.

What’s more, this method frees up some of the most useful agricultural substances in the manure and, with the full treatment regime, water extracted from the manure can be fed back to livestock as clean drinking water.

That could have a profound impact on the profitability of most farmed foods. It could also do a lot for air quality, which is damaged by release of ammonia and other molecules from these billions of gallons of manure.

This is the sort of basic breakthrough that could have major impacts, particularly over high rainfall areas of west Wales and, it is anticipated, the proof of the pudding will be available for farmers to see and evaluate later this summer.  

Read the full article on Wales Farmer