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Parliament Highlights the Importance of Digestate in the Future of the Agriculture Bill

As pressure mounts on the agriculture sector to reduce its environmental impact, farmers will be required to seek innovative ways to cut their GHG emissions. Digestate must play a vital role in achieving those environmental objectives as it replaces carbon-intensive artificial fertilisers. As the UK updates its legislative framework through the Agricultural Bill, currently before Parliament, the role of digestate set within the bill is due to be amended, with a view to including it as a viable alternative to traditional fertilisers.

Following ADBA’s request, Alan Brown MP asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to clarify the way in which the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs will continue to work with the sector to develop the market for digestate. Victoria Prentis, MP for North Oxford, stressed yesterday the importance of digestate and the wider role that AD has within the UK’s approach to environmental best-practice. Whilst stressing the importance of digestate as an alternative to traditional fertilisers, she stated yesterday, “AD represents the best environmental outcome for the treatment of unavoidable food waste, due to the generation of bio-fuel and digestate”. We believe that there is a great opportunity for digestate to become not only a significant part of combatting sources of environmental pollution, but also to provide a financial opportunity to producers, given the right governmental support.

Below is the full exchange from yesterday in Parliament:

Alan Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps his Department is taking to work with the agricultural sector to develop the market for digestate as an alternative to artificial fertilisers and encourage digestate upgrading.

Victoria Prentis: The definition of fertiliser in current regulation is being updated in the Agriculture Bill to include alternatives to traditional mineral based fertilisers, as the current definition does not allow for the effective regulation of non-traditional fertilisers. The UK-wide powers we are taking in the Agriculture Bill, currently before Parliament, will enable us to update current fertilisers legislation to enable new and innovative fertilisers to be marketed and provide farmers with a wider choice of more sustainable fertilisers (such as those from recycled wastes), as part of wider work to increase nutrient use efficiency, nutrient recycling and minimise pollution from fertilisers. The use of digestate needs to be considered alongside these other alternatives to traditional fertilisers. Stakeholder engagement, public consultation and a full impact assessment will be essential to inform a wider legislative review and subsequent secondary legislation. The use of digestate will naturally form part of this discussion. Defra has supported research into Anaerobic Digestion (AD) for over 20 years, first becoming involved in agricultural AD at the Silsoe agricultural technology institute and continuing this at a number of operational AD plants across the country. In addition, following support at consultation, we are legislating through the Environment Bill to introduce a statutory duty for waste collection authorities to arrange for the separate collection of food waste from households in England, at least weekly. Businesses and other organisations generating food waste will also be required to arrange for the separate collection of food waste. This material must be collected for recycling or composting. AD represents the best waste treatment method for unavoidable food waste due to the generation of biofuel and digestate. Local Authorities would be free to decide on the recycling route resulting from locally available infrastructure. AD can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as methane) from on-farm waste when best practice is used, though there is a risk of increased ammonia emissions, an environmental pollutant. AD represents the best environmental outcome for the treatment of unavoidable food waste, due to the generation of bio-fuel and digestate.


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