REA response to EFRA’s call for evidence on the Farming Rules for Water              December 2021

Written evidence submitted by The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (FR0075)

 

The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (the REA) is a not-for-profit trade association, representing British renewable energy producers and clean technology and promoting the use of renewable energy in the UK. It has around 550 corporate members, making it the largest renewable energy trade association in the UK.

 

The REA’s Organics and its Green Gas forum together comprise 422 members, numerous of which operate commercial composting facilities, commercial scale anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities and recycle organics to land. The REA works with stakeholders with the aim of achieving policy and regulatory frameworks for renewables and organic waste recycling that deliver an increasing contribution to the UK's electricity, heat, recycling and transport needs. More info available at www.r-e-a.net

 

REA welcome the intention of the Farming Rules for Water (FRfW) to prevent pollution and preserve water quality. The majority of our comments below are in relation to Rule 1 of the FRfW and in particular its interpretation and the enforcement. Rules 2 to 4 reflect existing rules and guidelines and we have no comments raised by members on these rules.

 

The key problem is the Environment Agency’s (EA) interpretation of Provision 4 within the Statutory Instrument and how it is interpreted within the guidance.  Clarification on the description for 4 -1(a) (i) is critical within the Statutory Instrument so that it is not open to flexible interpretation by different people.

 

Impact of the interpretation of FRfW

The interpretation of rule 1 is causing many issues for our members involved in the recycling of organics to land. In particular issues they have raised include:

All the issues (inconsistency, uncertainty etc) can put farmers off taking beneficial wastes or organic products. Not only does this have a large impact on the organic material producers but also encourages farmers to use traditional chemically derived fertilisers which do not support the circular economy of bioresources or the Net Zero ambitions which are vitally important to improving local and global ways of life. A healthy soil is a large contributor to carbon sequestration and control of GHG emissions.

There has been a massive impact on the costs for recycling organic materials to land, due to additional investment in storage infrastructure and competition for equipment and an impact on the landbank that is needed, under certain crops, creating lots of pressures for land managers.

The AHDB Impact assessment of the farming rules for water, evaluates the impact of the EA’s interpretation of rule 1 and predicts the pollution impact of moving to spring spreading.  There is likely to be a reduction in nitrate leaching losses and an increase in ammonia emission and increase in phosphorus loss. https://projectblue.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/Research%20Papers/FRfW%20impact%20assessment%20June%202021.pdf

Changes needed

The beneficial value of the addition of organic matter from renewable bioresources (e.g. composts and digestates made from biodegradable wastes and digestates made from energy crops) is not recognised and there is a need for this calculation to be built into the EA’s assessment tool, so the value is recognised. There needs to be better consideration of all properties of materials intended to be spread on soils, in terms of their total contributions to soil and crop needs, for example organic matter.

While direct emissions are considered the wider carbon footprint of applications of organic materials  is not considered and should be in order to properly assess the climate impact.

We also call for the EA to recognise that where soil, other than peat soil, contains more than 5 % organic matter, it is not a disbenefit to apply a waste that includes organic matter. This fits with the proposals for the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) providing support for farmers for soil husbandry measures for carbon sequestration, restoration of natural ecosystems and conservation of soil health and fertility for food security and healthy water resources. Organic matter in soils is vital to soil health.

An assessment of the financial impact on all affected sectors was not carried out.

There has been an issue raised about the minimum detectable limits for nutrient analysis and labs are unable to report a zero content for ammonium nitrogen in samples they test. An example of this provided by an operator was that despite the tiny amounts of readily available N present by analysis, it was still enough for a deployment to be rejected in an autumn application where the following crop had no N requirement. Results below the limit of detection for all nutrients should be considered by the EA to be zero for the corresponding nutrient(s), under agreed limits of detection.

There have been cases where low RAN materials have not been allowed to be spread (where soil conditions are suitable and soil/crop need can be demonstrated). There has been no acknowledgement that nitrogen takes time to mineralise (become available to plants) after spreading.

In some cases, it seems that EA are making decisions based on the physical properties of the material (i.e. liquid or solid) and not necessarily on nutrient content and potential for diffuse pollution.

There is inconsistency in the way that organic nitrogen usage on crops is assessed between the EA and RB209.

There is little recognition by the EA of companies seeking advice from FACTS qualified advisors, and no acknowledgement of their expertise. We would encourage the EA to accept and respect the advice from FACTS qualified advisors. Application of organic materials outside the main growing season should be permitted when this is justified with advice from a FACTS agronomist, as is the case within the NVZ regulations where spreading outside the closed period or exceeding certain thresholds may be permitted with written advice from a FACTS adviser. This approach would enable site specific factors to be better considered in applications. Any evidence requirements from the EA should be set out in guidance.

A member suggested that an online portal managed by the EA for recording all materials to land would allow clarity on timings, cropping, agricultural benefit etc and this would provide consistency and clarity for, farmers, end users, land managers, producers and regulators. 

The EA seem to have very limited resources for checking compliance with the rules. They need to be properly resourced to enable consistent enforcement of the regulations. Training for EA staff making assessments of land spreading deployment applications would assist with improving the consistency of the interpretation of the requirements.

A minimum 6 year transition is needed to enable planning, permitting and financing of storage.  Businesses need this kind of certainty to make the business case for the storage investment and not risk being undercut by competitors who are prepared to take risks that the FRFW will not be enforced or will be enforced late or variably.

 

Storage capacity varies across the industry (can vary according to the age of the site, and if processing waste or not). Some AD plants have made investments and now have 9 months storage capacity. Other facilities have shorter timescale storage capacity (e.g. 3 months, 6 months, while others are yet to build storage, but need to be given time to build it. Low interest loans could be part of solution to enable companies to invest in storage and compliance.

 

Covers for storage – there is mismatch of timing; and storage needs to be built ASAP to comply with FRFW but we are still unsure if the current covers set out in the Code of Good Practice for reducing ammonia emissions (CoGAP) will be acceptable under the Clean Air Strategy and if these requirements will be applicable to existing stores, or only to new stores. It is important that the type of covers required includes a wide range of existing and future storage solutions.

 

There are issues with conflicts in other regulations, for example Clean Air Strategy where there may be requirements for rapid incorporation of solid fertilisers (which could be difficult if FRfW means these materials are only able to be spread to growing crops).

There is a lack of joined up thinking with other rules – including the End of Waste positions – Quality Protocols. These do not allow further processing of digestate (beyond its separation into liquid and solid fractions and ‘aerobic maturation’ of the solid digestate fraction, these being treatment steps the AD operator can choose whether to apply) which would enable some of the aims of the FRFW to be addressed. The Quality Protocols for composts and anaerobic digestates are being reviewed but we have no certainty as to what further processing of digestate products will become allowed and industry will need a reasonable transition period for adjusting production and for this to become audited and certified. Unfortunately, the FRFW do not take these things into account and are important considerations.

Preventing pollution

Whilst the limitations on autumn spreading are intended to prevent diffuse pollution from agriculture, the delay of all spreading to spring can cause other issues in terms of environmental protection and may not always deliver the desired outcome. In some cases, where justified, autumn spreading may be the better option. Some issues that have been highlighted include:

 

December 2021