One of Northern Ireland's largest milk processors has signed a deal with the region's environment agency to help its suppliers reduce their ammonia emissions.

Lakeland Dairies committed to working with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to ensure significant improvements in resource and energy efficiency and in reducing carbon emissions from their factory operations.

One of the most important aspects of the agreement is its commitment to work with NIEA and the wider Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, as well as with farmers to identify ways to reduce ammonia emissions arising from dairy farms.

Lakeland Dairies will also work to help its farmers better understand land quality and nutrient requirements and to continue their support for biodiversity and habitat protection.

The firm works with more than 750 family farms in the region to produce 600 million litres of pasture-based milk annually.

'Cutting CO2 emissions by 50%'

Alo Duffy, chairman of Lakeland Dairies, said: “We are one of Northern Ireland’s leading dairy co-operatives and we’re delighted to be signing this prosperity agreement, recognising our ambitious and progressive environmental targets.

"This agreement will help us as a business and across our sphere of influence to respond positively to key environmental challenges such as ammonia emissions and resource efficiency.

"For instance, we have committed to reducing the carbon dioxide generated per litre of product by 50% by 2021. We look forward to delivering against our outcomes in partnership with NIEA.”

Speaking at the signing, David Small, NIEA chief executive, said the deal would lead to "significant" business and environmental benefits.

“The prosperity agreement programme is a great example of how Government and progressive organisations can work together for positive outcomes and address key issues, delivering prosperity and well-being," he said.

Today's prosperity agreement is NIEA's eighth.

Ammonia and its effects

Ammonia emitted into the air is subsequently deposited as nitrogen onto land and water surfaces. Nitrogen deposition occurs in the gaseous form close to the source through dry deposition or through rainfall (wet deposition), often many miles from the original ammonia source.

Excess ammonia acts like a fertiliser and can lead to a reduction in species diversity, particularly those habitats adapted to low nitrogen availability and certain plants such as lichens, ferns and mosses.

It can also lead to changes in ecosystem structure and function. It's estimated that 45% of the plant species occurring in the UK between 1987 and 1999 were associated with the increases with nitrogen availability.