Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has published extensive guide into how the region's farmers can do their bit to reduce ammonia emissions.

The new code of good practice sets out voluntary best practice measures and does not override or change any current or future statutory requirements.

Ammonia became a controversial topic among those in the industry after several major planning applications were stalled due to issues with emissions. This had a knock-on effect on the department's Tier 2 grant scheme for large infrastructure projects.

Ammonia is harmful to the environment through the deposition of excess nitrogen on sensitive habitats. Ammonia is also one of a number of contributory factors in the formation of Particulate Matter, which has negative impacts on human health.

It is hoped the new voluntary Code of Good Agricultural Practice for Reducing Ammonia Emissions, which was launched at this year's Balmoral Show, will help Northern Ireland contribute to the UK targets of reducing ammonia emissions by 8% in 2020 and 16% in 2030.

Why the focus on farming?

With Northern Ireland responsible for 12% of UK ammonia emissions whilst representing 6% of the UK's land area, it's likely a large proportion of the work needed to achieve this will occur in Northern Ireland.

Within the region, 90% of NI's ammonia emissions come from agriculture with cattle said to be responsible for around 70% of this figure.

The guide was written by DAERA officials in collaboration with the Ulster Farmers’ Union, the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

It sets out a range of practical steps to minimise emissions of the air pollutant.

Advice includes covering manure heaps, storing manure in 'A' shaped heaps to reduce surface area and fitting a cover on any outdoor slurry stores.

A rigid or fixed cover fitted to a concrete or steel slurry store can reduce ammonia emissions during storage by up to 80%.

This is a requirement for all new or reconstructed above ground slurry stores from 2020 under the Nutrients Action Programme.

Suggestions also include monitoring the pH of slurry, planting trees near slurry storage, reducing the level of crude protein in feed

“Reducing ammonia emissions is one of the key environmental challenges facing agriculture,” explained Norman Fulton, head of DAERA’s Food and Farming.

Many farmers have already made good progress by using methods that reduce ammonia emissions, including how they store and spread manures and by changes made to their livestock diets.

"But we need to do more and farmers are in a great position to help us protect and enhance our environment, our sensitive and protected habitats, as well as the air we breathe.

“We are committed to working with the industry to find ways to reduce ammonia, help farm businesses work in harmony with the environment and develop a sustainable agri-food industry. We need widespread adoption of the measures to achieve that,” Fulton added.