Writes Peter Knight, managing director of Burgate Farms Ltd, Hambledon, Surrey.

DEFRA’s announcement in April restricting the use of urea was not totally unexpected, although the NFU crops board had been asking for a later implementation date to allow fertiliser markets to restructure following plant closures across Europe.

Ammonia causes pollution which has been shown to affect people’s health. The Government’s Clean Air Strategy aims to reduce ammonia pollution by 16% by 2030, and as agriculture contributes more than 80% of ammonia emissions, it was a certainty that the industry would have to curb emissions. 

In November 2020 DEFRA launched a consultation on the use of solid urea and came up with three options to reduce emissions:

  1. A total ban on the use of solid urea (DEFRA’s preferred option)
  2. All urea to be treated with an inhibitor
  3. A restricted usage period for solid urea from 15 January to 31 March.

With the cost of ammonium nitrate rocketing, any of these options would have had a severe impact by taking away an alternative source of nitrogen that provided competition in the marketplace.

With the aim of finding a better solution, the NFU pulled together a group of industry stakeholders, agronomists and scientists to challenge DEFRA’s thinking. The resulting alternative became known as ‘Option 4’, which had to show that the reduction in ammonia could still be achieved with less restrictive rules relating to the use of urea.

Option 4

  1. Solid urea not treated with inhibitor only to be used between 15 January and 31 March
  2. All solid urea used outside that period to be treated with inhibitor
  3. Liquid urea allowed to be used uninhibited between 15 January and 31 March
  4. Uninhibited use outside those dates to be used only on the recommendation of a FACTS qualified adviser. Without such a recommendation, inhibitor to be added.

DEFRA only accepted option 4 on the understanding that all urea applications would be recorded and audited. To avoid further burdensome inspections, self-regulation has been accepted and will be audited as part of Red Tractor. The rules come into effect in October and will apply to applications made to next season’s crops, so in practice it will only affect urea applied after 31 March 2024.

Points to remember: Only purchase untreated urea if you are confident it can be used before 31 March. Buying inhibitor-treated urea only adds around 7p per kilo of Nitrogen, which means buying all treated product gives flexibility with only moderate extra cost. Record all urea applications in the same way as pesticides so it is easily audited by Red Tractor. Remember DEFRA is monitoring ammonia emissions and looking for 16% reduction by 2030. If progress is not made towards this target an outright ban urea will undoubtedly be on the table.

The NFU is running a series of free health and safety workshops across the region throughout June to increase awareness of issues that can and do cause accidents, especially at harvest time. 

The workshops are aimed at everybody who works on the farm, not just management. They are being held on working farms and will offer sensible, practical advice on how to keep everybody safe while working through the busy harvest period, so please spare a couple of hours to pick up tips and advice and help prevent the accidents that are still too prevalent. 

Booking is essential; call the NFU South East Office on 01730 711950

For more like this, sign up for the FREE South East Farmer e-newsletter here and receive all the latest farming news, reviews and insight straight to your inbox.