By Debbie James

Simple and cost-effective changes to slurry and effluent controls have allowed a Pembrokeshire dairy farm to significantly reduce the volume of waste captured in its lagoon and to make better use of on-farm nutrients.

Ahead of the roll-out of new regulatory and voluntary initiatives to prevent pollution from agriculture, the Williams family embarked on a ‘stock check’ of existing storage capacity and infrastructure at 240-acre Trebover Farm, near Fishguard.

Central to this was infrastructure advice on slurry and manure storage from Keith Owen, an independent buildings and environmental consultant, with his advice 80 per cent funded by the Farming Connect advisory service.

Prior to this exercise, the Williams’ had anticipated that they would need to invest heavily in new storage facilities but Mr Owen instead recommended a series of measures to ease pressure on the existing underground store and to comply with proposed pollution directives.

Improvements included diverting dirty water away from the lagoon into a separate storage facility and fitting gutters and downspouts to buildings to prevent rainwater entering the lagoon.

This has spared the business the cost of major capital investment says Randal Williams, who farms 400 acres with his father, Phil, trading as Parc y Morfa Farms Limited.

Although the changes cost in the region of £20,000, building a new store would have been more than double this, Mr Williams calculates.

“We needed good advice on the best way forward for complying with the new water quality directives and were very pleased with the guidance we received, it has saved us a lot of money.

“By keeping as much clean water as possible out of the slurry system, the lagoon does not need to be emptied as often and the slurry is more valuable as a fertiliser.’’

Mr Williams, who supplies milk from his 220-cow herd to First Milk and is a member of its nutrient efficiency scheme, also received a nutrient management plan (NMP) through Farming Connect’s advisory service – in Wales NMPs are fully funded for groups of three or more eligible farm businesses or 80 per cent funded on a one-to-one basis.

Soils in all his fields were sampled and this threw up some surprises.

“There was a field that gets no slurry or muck because it is steep, just an application of bagged fertiliser twice a year, but the P, K and pH were spot-on,’’ says Mr Williams.

The NMP, carried out by Aled Roberts of Adas, is helping him to better management his on-farm nutrients. “We are now using the slurry when and where it is needed instead of just applying it to the land because the lagoon needs emptying and this means we are not applying as much bagged fertiliser,’’ says Mr Williams.

Mr Williams’ message to other farmers is to make full use of government support and funding services to prepare for new nitrate measures.

“Getting the right advice has saved us thousands of pounds and has given us confidence that we are doing the right things with our slurry management.’’

The nutrient scheme

Randal Williams is one of dozens of farmers supplying the First Milk creamery in Haverfordwest that have signed up to its nutrient efficiency scheme.

The initiative offsets the impact of nutrients generated by agriculture.

It has been calculated that nitrate losses from the farms in the First Milk scheme have dropped from 283 tonnes annually to 248, which equates to around a tonne per farm or 7kg/hectare, double what the cheese factory is releasing.

The project evolved after Welsh Water served notice that it would no longer treat the effluent from the cheese factory at its sewage plant because it needed the capacity for new housing development.

After prolonged negotiations between First Milk and Natural Resources Wales, it was agreed that treated effluent from the factory could be discharged into the Cleddau if the farmers offset these nutrients by changing farming practices.

The initiative is based around building resistance in catchments (BRICs), a nutrient trading scheme that rewards farmers for going beyond the basic regulations such as establishing buffer strips along watercourses and using fertiliser more prudently.