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Transforming slurry management is key to help farmers weather ‘perfect storm’

By Grant Leslie, Chief Operating Officer, SEM

Agriculture. It’s the prime connection between people and our planet, and vital to securing a healthy and prosperous future for generations to come.

In economic terms, the agriculture industry is worth around £128.7 billion to the UK economy, and is responsible for over 4.1 million people’s livelihoods. The agri-food sector as a whole generates around £21.4 billion of gross export earnings for the UK each year.1

On the flip side, 1.7% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the UK is attributed to agriculture. That’s around 6.89 million tonnes – with slurry storage and processing responsible for 10% of these.1

It might also surprise you to learn that 31% of global, human-caused GHG emissions, originate from the world’s agri-food systems. 2

The industry faces profound challenges as it struggles to balance potentially competing priorities. On the one hand, increasing productivity while on the other, adapting to more sustainable methods of food production and waste management. Simultaneously farmers are striving to comply with ever-tightening legislation aimed at protecting our natural environment.

The NFUS perspective

Squaring the circle of efficient, profitable, sustainable businesses which preserve the natural environment and resources is something that is very close to my heart – one of the drivers for launching our environmental technology business in fact. So, I was pleased to have the opportunity to find out first-hand about how these issues are affecting farmers and farming businesses when I recently met up with the Vice-President of the National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFUS), Andrew Connon.

While adapting to challenge and change is nothing new to the agricultural community, Andrew described a proverbial perfect storm of pressures including growing demand on finite resources, steep rises in the cost of processing, storing and transporting agricultural slurry, combined with escalating legislation and environmental responsibilities.

Compliance in practice

One piece of legislation that has been causing consternation in the farming community of late is the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021. Having come into effect earlier this year, it sets out to regulate activities which could have an adverse impact on Scotland’s water environment, including engineering, surface water drainage and pollution.

What does it mean for farmers in practice? The requirement for slurry storage capacity has been reduced from 6 months to 22 weeks for slurry produced by housed cattle.  This matches the storage period already in force within Nutrient Vulnerable Zones (NVZs).  The need for a current Risk Assessment for Manures and Slurries (RAMS) map has also been brought into the regulations.

Sustainable slurry management is a must

Although this legislation is recent, we have long championed that sustainable, practical and cost-effective agricultural slurry management – as part of a circular economy – is the key to safeguarding the health of our land and our water. Slurry application, transportation for disposal and long-term storage all cost our environment dearly: from soil degradation to biodiversity loss, ground water pollution to the production of harmful greenhouse gases.

Knowing that SEM could support farmers to manage their waste in a compliant, safe and sustainable manner, we actively work in partnership with our stakeholders in the industry to build solutions which process agricultural waste such as slurry on-site. This helps to eradicate the need for costly – in environmental and economic terms – slurry transportation.

Our slurry management solutions

As such, we’ve teamed up with Agri-EPI Centre as part of an Innovate UK project to deliver slurry management systems that will raise the bar in best practice and enable industry to reduce or repurpose ‘waste’ products, cut carbon emissions, eliminate biosecurity concerns and preserve resources.

De-watering plays a significant part of the process.  Reducing the mass volume of slurry makes it easier for agricultural businesses to comply with storage regulations.

Last, but definitely not least, our slurry solutions process and recover precious resources from waste streams, creating valuable by-products such as sustainable fertiliser and growth media that are compliant with spreading regulations. Hard-pressed farmers recover revenue from what was previously considered a burdensome waste material, soil health is preserved and protected, along with the benefits of carbon removal. All the while, we’re leading a circular economy by reusing finite natural resources.

People, planet and business

I’m no David Attenborough, but I am adding my voice – and that of SEM – to the rallying call for real action on climate change and on helping communities around the world. Driving down CO2 emissions, reusing precious resources including water, preserving soil and water health – we’re working with our farming partners in Scotland, and across Europe and North America, to develop tailored slurry management solutions that achieve all of this, without sacrificing productivity or profitability.

Or as we call it at SEM, sustaining people, planet and business in equal measure.

  1. Source: https://gov.uk/statistics/foodstatistics-pocketbook
  2. Source: New FAO analysis reveals carbon footprint of agri-food supply chain | | UN News