Anaerobic digestion can help farmers clean up the water environment, says Defra

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Innovative technology which turns organic matter into biogas – a renewable source of energy and a transport fuel – could play an important part in helping farmers meet strict new environmental rules, Environment Minister Phil Woolas said today.

From January 2009 farmers will have to step up action to cut the amount of nitrates from fertiliser that gets into rivers. This will include restricting the times of year that fertiliser can be spread on land and storing excess manure outside these times.

Treating the manure in on-farm anaerobic digestion plants while it is being stored could produce biogas, which farmers could use as a source of energy.  The treated manure can be returned to the soil as fertiliser.

Phil Woolas acknowledged that there are still hurdles to be overcome, saying:

“Tackling pollution from agriculture is central to boosting the quality of our water environment. Left unchecked it can have serious effects on local rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters, and the plant life and wildlife that depend on those.

“Anaerobic digestion is an exciting and innovative technology, and it is clear we are not making full use of its potential. I know from talking to the farming industry that there are barriers to enabling its wider take up by farmers and that’s something I have promised to look at.”

Defra ministers met around fifty senior industry and non-government organisation executives in July to discuss ways of increasing the use of anaerobic digestion, and delegates agreed to work with government and each other to overcome barriers to increasing its capacity in this country. A follow up meeting later this year will review progress.

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