Poop overload: Northern Ireland could be forced to export a third of its animal waste | Agriculture
An increase in pig and poultry farming in Northern Ireland created a multi-million pound industry, feeding UK consumers with chicken and pork. But it creates a climate and pollution headache for politicians.
After a decade of growth, the country has a poultry population of 25 million and pig production has grown to nearly 1.5 million, with most of the meat exported to Britain.
Figures show Northern Ireland has no shortage of ingredients for sausages amid a bitter row between the EU and the UK over an impending ban on chilled meats traded from Britain In the region.
But the country is struggling to dispose of its animal waste in a sustainable way – and may need to export more than a third. Rising phosphate and nitrate levels are also threatening the country’s waterways and pushing the UK beyond international ammonia limits.
Advisory bodies have told politicians that up to 35% of animal waste may need to be exported to improve water and soil quality in the region, and that “agricultural activities remain a significant and increasing pressure on quality. of water “in Northern Ireland.
Only one in 21 lakes in Northern Ireland is considered to be in good condition under the EU’s Water Framework Directive, legislation intended to improve the quality of river water.
The Decentralized Government’s first climate bill passed second reading last month, setting a net zero carbon target in 2045 for Northern Ireland. Farmer groups say the target could wipe out half of the country’s pastoralists if implemented.
A quarter of Northern Ireland’s poultry litter is exported, but there are no figures on the extent of animal waste exports.
Slurry and concentrated solid manure produced by intensive pig and poultry farms are deposited across the Irish border to Wexford, more than 150 miles to the south. Some of the rest is shipped to incinerators in Britain, including sites in Norfolk and Fife. The material transported to the Republic of Ireland is used extensively as fertilizer or is transported to anaerobic digestion plants for biofuel.
Cross-border pollution from the disposal of excess waste in Northern Ireland has sparked legal action, with cases being prepared by Friends of the Earth and the Irish national trust body, An Taisce, who owns land on horseback on the border between Monaghan and Tyrone.
The Green Party says 98% of special conservation areas in Northern Ireland exceed critical loads for nitrogen, some as high as 300% or more.
James Orr, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director, says cross-border pollution is the result of years of regulatory inaction on both sides of the border. He argues that intensive agricultural practices have led to: “Air pollution, chronic water pollution and also habitat degradation through the uprooting of natural and semi-natural habitats for intensification. “
“We are an agribusiness hub in Northern Ireland which means we are now saturated with excrement,” Orr said. “And not just ourselves, but our neighbors are paying the price as well. “
The growth of intensive pig and poultry farming in the country continues, with planning decisions expected on mega units to house tens of thousands of pigs and chickens in Newtownabbey, Fermanagh and Limavady – on the verge of to become one of the UK’s largest intensive livestock farms.
The number of intensive poultry farms (with 40,000 or more birds) having obtained a building permit in Northern Ireland has increased from 141 in 2011 to 245 in 2017, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
During this time, Moy Park, the largest company in Northern Ireland and the largest poultry processor in Europe, encouraged the construction of hundreds of new chicken coops on farms in Northern Ireland.
The number of poultry in Northern Ireland increased by 27% between 2012 and 2020 to reach almost 25 million. Between 2006 and 2020, slaughter of farm pigs more than doubled in the region – from 717,172 to 1,444,150 – while its breeding herd increased by 31% between 2006 and 2019.
Meanwhile, between 2011 and 2018, export sales of pork from Northern Ireland nearly doubled – from £ 54.8million to £ 106.2million – as exports Agri-food products grew by 77%.
About 80% of the region’s meat is exported, with Britain being somewhat of its biggest market, accounting for almost two-thirds of agri-food exports in 2015.
Mark Sutton, environmental physicist at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology, says that while recognizing that agriculture is a large part of the Northern Irish economy, there is an urgent need to meet emissions targets. nitrogen, of which ammonia is a big part of the UK’s climate attention before Cop26 focuses on carbon emissions.
Citing the damage to sphagnum moss and nitrogen-sensitive peatlands – which act as carbon sinks – caused by excess waste, Sutton argues that measures as simple as the use of new machinery d spreading slurry and more efficient storage of manure fertilizers could help reduce Northern Ireland’s emissions. significantly. “We estimate that around 80% of [all] nitrogen inputs that go into farming are wasted, ”Sutton said.
“If we are to meet our net zero goals, we need to take action on nitrogen. One of the problems is the fragmentation of its by-products – you have ammonia, nitrates in the water, and nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is hundreds of times more potent than CO2, coming out of the ground, ”he said.
Fermanagh and Omagh District Councilor Chris McCaffrey said farmers were trying to diversify by “copying this industrial model, which carries enormous risks to the environment and public health, as well as risks to human well- be animals.
“We have very low topsoil here in Fermanagh – only a few inches. So it doesn’t take long before ammonia and other pollutants enter the water table.
A request for a new 1,000 pig unit in his neighborhood on the outskirts of Derrylin was turned down last year following widespread community opposition.
The Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) said it had “developed an ammonia strategy, which will soon be released for consultation.” This strategy describes a comprehensive approach to reducing ammonia and protecting and restoring habitats.
“Daera has already taken action to tackle ammonia in Northern Ireland, including funding a large ammonia research program, publishing a code of good agricultural practice for reducing ammonia emissions and helping financially farmers to invest in ammonia reduction technologies such as low emissions. slurry spreading equipment, which reduces the impacts on ammonia and water quality of slurry spreading through programs such as the Farm Business Improvement Program.
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