According to the latest Environment Agency figures, “the main sources of pollution are agriculture and rural land management (40%)”. In a policy paper on nutrient pollution, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs states that “nutrient pollution is an urgent problem for our freshwater habitats and rivers, many of which are internationally important for wildlife”. It cites agricultural pollution in water courses as being one of the main causes of decline in protected wildlife sites.
Agricultural wastewater differs from industrial wastewater in that it contains large amounts of nutrients, organic matter, suspended and dissolved solids. Agricultural wastewater requires a lot of oxygen to process, which means if it is discharged into the natural environment, it will have an adverse effect on water quality.
Pollution from livestock is a particular problem, posing challenges that are unique to the farming world. Manure accounts for 25% phosphate, 50% nitrate and 75% sediment loadings in water. It also releases ammonia pollution into the air, which results in acid rain. Chicken farming in particular has attracted a lot of media attention for the water pollution produced, especially along the River Wye. Speaking in 2021, a Senior Agriculture Advisor for the Environment Agency told The Guardian that reducing and restricting livestock production in heavily polluted areas is needed in order to fit livestock into the environment and reduce stress. But the blame for the situation we are in needs to be shared: “This is not a farmer problem, it’s a societal problem. Farmers want to get to the same place, but are trapped in a cheap food economy. If society wants a clean River Wye or to stop Amazon deforestation, then it has to take responsibility.”
Slurry management is a huge issue for livestock farmers. Millions of tonnes of it are produced every year and farmers must have the infrastructure to store and safely dispose of it.
As slurry contains many nutrients that benefit soil health, it is used as a fertiliser. However it also has the potential to create “significant pollution” to water and air, leaving farmers with complex regulations to follow and financial barriers. In an interview with Farmers Weekly, agricultural consultant Sarah Lea advocated careful management of slurry, including regular testing and compositing, as it can help farmers reduce fertiliser bills.
Defra and the Environment Agency have produced guidance about the use and management of manure which is designed to protect the environment and prevent pollution from getting into our waters.
Livestock and agricultural farmers are finding ways of running their farms in an environmentally sustainable manner. Brockton Grange in Shifnal is an organic dairy farm that uses slurry and dirty water as fertiliser on grazing land, largely via underground pipes that also mean there’s less vehicular damage to the paddocks. Farmyard manure is composted and spread on the fields in the autumn or winter.
Another farm on the Isle of Wight has submitted plans for an eco-friendly wastewater system that would result in the creation of a new three acre area of wetland. The Garlic Farm is proposing to use nature as a way of processing sewage from the farm and associated businesses, using the resulting bathing quality water for crop irrigation. As a natural way of purifying water, no electricity will be needed, adding sustainability credentials to the business.
However carefully you manage your wastewater, your farm may still have to discharge agricultural effluent into the public sewerage system, then you will need to apply for trade effluent consent, which is something we can help you with.
Unlike most businesses where wastewater has mineral elements that need to be removed, farms will have organic elements that need to be carefully controlled, especially if a farm is set up for wastewater to be treated and brought back into the system. Various kinds of agriculture will determine how to treat the wastewater. For example, a poultry farm will have certain processes for water use along the chain, while a fruit or veg farm will be entirely different.
Castle Water’s specialist partners can help farms and those in the agriculture industry to lower water usage and utilise better water technology to lower costs.
With fair pricing, a smooth switching process, straightforward Consolidated Billing, simple online tools, support to improve sustainability, and specialised Agriculture Wastewater Treatment Services, we have everything you need get the most from your water services.Discover more