FOR years farmers and contractors in Scotland and beyond have used tankers with the traditional splash plate on the rear to spread slurry – but that could be a distant memory if new regulations take hold.

Due to an increased concern about high ammonia emissions and harm to the environment when using splash plates, new regulations may see a total ban on this piece of equipment by 2025.

Scotland produces more than 6.3m tonnes of slurry each year, half of which comes from the dairy industry. But, for the past few years, government has called for a best practice approach to slurry management, including spreading, to try and reduce emissions when spreading manure and ensure more nutrients reach the soil and not the atmosphere.

Around 88% of ammonia (NH3) emissions in the UK come from agriculture and it is a key air pollutant that can have significant effects on both human health and the environment. Nitrogen, in the form of ammonia, is lost from organic manures, such as slurry, solid manure and litter, digestate, sludge and compost, when they come into contact with air, particularly on warm, or windy days.

Therefore, measures to reduce ammonia emissions and improve overall nutrient management practices could reduce the amount of manufactured fertiliser that farmers need.

The latest technology surrounding slurry spreading techniques show lower emissions when using the likes of trailing shoes, dribble bars and injection systems.

Slurry spread with a splash plate can result in high losses of 80 to 100% of the total ammonia. These losses can be reduced by up to 60% if the slurry is spread by low emission spreading equipment, such as the trailing shoe system. Splash plate systems also increase the risk of surface run-off into waterways.

With this in mind, together with the increased focus on the environment, Northern Ireland slurry equipment manufacturer, SlurryKat, recently held its first ever slurry spreading technology event at its Co Armagh base.

Slurry equipment manufacturers are already producing low emission spreading equipment, but the end is near for the splash plate as 2025 has been earmarked for its demise.

The SlurryKat event attracted around 800 farmers and contractors to the factory at Waringstown, where spreading alternatives such as dribble bars, trailing shoes and umbilical systems were on display.

SlurryKat CEO Garth Cairns said this was the first slurry spreading technology event of its kind and was happy with the turnout.

He said: “The focus of the indoor event was to highlight the imminent environmental regulations for spreading slurry on farms. It also showed farmers and contractors some of the low emission spreading methods that we have available to the industry to comply with the new regulations.”

Regulations in Northern Ireland from the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) states low emission application methods must be used for all anaerobic digestate spreading by February, 2020; all slurry contractors by February, 2021, and cattle farms with more than 200 livestock units, or pig farms with total annual livestock manure nitrogen production of 20,000kg or more, by February, 2022.

Mr Cairns added: “During a number of meetings with government officials, we have determined that splash plates will be banned across the board by 2025. This ban will be phased in starting this year for different sectors that use them.

“In the last two years at SlurryKat we have completely redesigned our entire range of spreading technology equipment. Nowadays, the systems are much lighter, more efficient, have higher performance outputs and are wider ranging. They now perform best with all types of slurry and on steep slopes,” he added.

The rest of the UK has also issued guidelines encouraging farmers and contractors to obtain and use low emission spreading equipment in time before the ban kicks in.

The problem, however, is the large number of smaller farmers who use tankers with splash plates and who could not justify the purchase of a new tanker with a dribble bar or even adding one to their existing tanker.

In Northern Ireland, the new Daera Minister, Edwin Poots, who attended the SlurryKat event, said: “There is an increasing and growing acceptance of the need to reduce ammonia, nitrates and phosphorus emissions into our air and water to prevent damage to sensitive sites, rivers and lakes, protect human health, help to meet UK targets and to improve the efficiency of nutrient use.

“In doing so, agricultural businesses have the added benefit of becoming more efficient by making better use of nutrients in slurries and reducing the need to buy chemical fertilisers.

“There is no doubt of the complexities and challenges that face us when we try to protect our green lands whilst at the same time, support and encourage the rural sector to flourish.

“While the use of low emission slurry spreading equipment, such as trailing shoes and dribble bars is already significant, I would like to see much greater uptake of this highly beneficial technology on farms across Northern Ireland as it is a key contributor in making a sustainable future for Northern Ireland farming,” he added.