Dairy farming river pollution

Farming, Food, River pollution

Dairy farming river pollution is the focus of work by River Action, who report the following.

Increasing intensification of dairy production driven largely by aggressive supermarket pricing pressures, failure to enforce environmental regulations, and inadequate government environmental incentives for dairy farmers are among the factors that have conspired to create one of the largest causes of UK river pollution, according to new data revealed by River Action.

The charity calls on the dairy processing industry, major food retailers, government, and environmental regulators to provide more incentives, support, and deterrence to mitigate what has become one of the largest single causes of river pollution in the UK.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by River Action to the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, DAERA and SEPA disclosed multiple data sources indicating that most UK dairy farms are likely to be non-compliant with critical environment regulations aimed at preventing river pollution. The FOI’s reveal:
 In England 69% of the 2,475 dairy farms inspected between 2020 & 2021 by the Environment Agency (EA) were in breach of environmental regulations.
 In Wales 80% of the 83 dairy farms inspected by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) between 2020 and 2022 were non-compliant with anti-pollution regulations.
 In Northern Ireland 50% of the 339 dairy farms inspected by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) between 2020 – 2022 were not compliant.
 In Scotland: 60% of the 114 dairy farms initially inspected by Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) between 2020 and 2023 were in breach of regulations – with over half of the 56 dairy farms subject to follow-on inspections still being non-compliant.

These findings are corroborated by several other data sources, including a recent statement  by the Chair of the Environment Agency in February 2024, which showed that the dairy farms accounted for over 75% of all serious pollution incidents caused
by agriculture, with agriculture being the largest single source of river pollution.

According to River Action, conditions have aligned to create the worst possible conditions for the nation’s dairy farmers to be compliant with regulations designed to prevent pollution whilst remaining economically viable. These are:
 1. Recent intensification of the UK dairy industry resulting in a much higher pollution load per hectare
 2. Failure of Government to adequately incentivise better environmental performance
 3. Failure by Environmental Regulators to enforce laws designed to prevent river pollution

 4. Inadequate environmental assurance standards in use by food retailing industry to certify dairy produce
 5. Unprecedented weather conditions causing underinvested slurry management infrastructure to be overwhelmed

River Action is calling for the immediate implementation of critical remedial actions, including:
 The UK’s largest dairy processors to introduce wider pricing incentives to reward dairy farmers for improved environmental performance
 Supermarkets groups to adopt better environmental certification schemes given the clear failure of Red Tractor to be a reliable certification of
environmental performance for dairy producers
 Government to deliver on its promises to ensure the post-Brexit Environment Land Management Scheme (ELMS) farming subsidies become a major incentive for creating a systemic improvement of farming environmental performance 
 DEFRA & its equivalent bodies in the devolved nations to a) expand & extend substantially  existing grant schemes to improve slurry management infrastructure and b) encourage adoption of technological solutions to re-cycle slurry to substitute chemical fertiliser usage
 Environmental regulators to start a) fully enforcing existing anti-pollution regulations to ensure greater deterrence against the current widespread non-compliance across the industry and b) extend regulations to cover other pollution sources such as fodder maize production
Source: https://riveractionuk.com/river-action-freedom-of-information-requests-

You can find out more about River Action at: https://riveractionuk.com/