The government has launched a consultation today (Tuesday, November 3) seeking views on reducing ammonia emissions from solid urea fertilisers used for growing plants and crops.

Ammonia emissions are harmful to natural habitats, rivers and lakes, as well as to human health, with 87% of the UK’s ammonia emissions coming from farming.

The government has committed to reducing ammonia emissions by 8% of 2005 levels by 2020, and a 16% reduction by 2030. 

Taking action on solid urea fertilisers has the potential to reduce pollution caused by:

  • Ammonia reacting with other pollutants – nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide – to form particulate matter (PM2.5) which is harmful to cardiovascular and respiratory health;
  • Nitrogen deposited on sensitive habitats such as peat bogs. This leads to excess nitrogen in soils that damages the growth of certain plant species;
  • Nitrogen leaching through the soil and surface run-off which pollutes water courses, causing harm to plants and animals and impacting on water quality.

The consultation presents three cost-effective options:

  • A total ban on solid urea fertilisers;
  • A requirement to stabilise solid urea fertilisers with the addition of a urease inhibitor - a chemical that helps slow the conversion of urea to ammonium;
  • A requirement to restrict the spreading of solid urea fertilisers so they can only be used from January 15 to March 31 .

While each of these options will support the government’s commitment to reducing ammonia emissions, a ban on solid urea fertilisers would achieve around 31% of the ammonia reduction target by 2030.

Reducing ammonia emissions will significantly reduce nitrogen deposition to land and in turn help reduce damage to peat bogs, which are an important carbon sink, thereby helping to tackle climate change.

'Emissions are causing harm'

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

Ammonia emissions from agriculture are causing harm to sensitive and important habitats by making soils more acidic which damages the growth of some plant species, impacting on biodiversity.

"They are also harmful to human health, and we welcome views on how we can address their use in agriculture so that we can all breathe cleaner air.

"Any changes will need to be made in a way that is realistic and achievable for farmers, but which help us to achieve our ambitious targets for better air quality.

We are committed to working with farmers to help them do this.

"This will build on the comprehensive action we are already taking to tackle air pollution – with emissions of fine particulate matter down by 9% since 2010 and £3.8 billion invested in ensuring our air is the cleanest in decades," he concluded.