Green innovation can benefit your farm business and the environment: biotechnology, managing waste, land contamination and water pollution
There are a number of ways that you can use innovative technologies, processes, products or services to:
- improve your agriculture business
- save you money
- help you comply with environmental laws
- enhance your reputation
By using green innovation in your farm business, you can also protect the environment and fight the effects of climate change. In the farming industry, green innovations can include finding new uses and ways of dealing with waste, bio and nanotechnology, and using different technologies to reduce and clean up land contamination and water pollution.
However, before you use or develop innovative technologies or products of any type, you need to consider their environmental impacts. The impacts of innovation can be unknown and you may need to take steps to comply with the law and protect the environment.
This guide outlines the types of environmental technologies, processes, products and services you can develop within your farm business, and the benefits of doing so. It also explains which environmental regulations you must comply with when developing a new product or process, and when you may be exempt from the need to have a permit or licence.
Environmental and clean technology
If you want your farm business to be sustainable, you need to minimise the carbon emissions and environmental pollution from your activities. For example, you can start by cutting your gas and electricity use by switching off electrical equipment when it’s not needed. You could carry out minor improvements to ensure windows close properly to stop heat escaping, or make sure your plumbing is in good condition to prevent leaks.
You could also invest in environmental and clean technologies to make your business more sustainable. Environmental and clean technologies are products or services that:
- reduce the risk of harming the environment
- minimise pollution
- minimise the amount of materials used
- correct environmental damage
Alternatively, you may be able to improve your products or services by switching to alternative clean technologies. This can help you reduce your environmental impact and business costs. Clean technologies let you:
- use renewable materials and energy sources - eg install an anaerobic digestion plant to digest manure and slurry, and to produce biogas for heat and power on the farm
- limit your energy use - eg use low energy bulbs and lamps
- reduce your use of natural resources - eg by using products that contain recycled materials
- reduce or eliminate waste - eg recycle process wash waters, or install heat pumps to capture and reuse heat
- reduce or eliminate emissions
- reduce energy use wherever possible by reducing your use of lighting and air-conditioning
- increase your use of energy-efficient equipment and insulation
Clean technologies and your business
If you’re thinking about switching to clean technologies, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it make economic sense for my farm business?
- Will it reduce my operational expenses?
- Will it affect my product quality?
- Will it affect my customers?
- Do I need to put training provisions into place?
- Will it impact on any of my timescales?
- How significant are the environmental benefits?
While it is relatively cheap and simple to put small steps into action, you should get professional advice if you’re considering moving towards clean technologies such as biomass energy and biodiesel as these will require investment of time and money. You should contact the Environment Agency as early as possible so that they can advise if there is anything you need to do before you invest any money.
You must make sure that you have all the appropriate permits, licences and exemptions in place before you start developing your product or process and any trialling activities.
For more information, see the guide on how to grow your business through sustainable innovation.
Green technologies for farmers
There are several green technologies available to farmers that can reduce costs and environmental impact.
Micro-combined heat and power devices generate electricity locally and produce heat, making them more fuel efficient than conventional boiler systems.
Anaerobic digestion uses bacteria to break down organic matter, such as manure or slurry. This produces biogas and digestate (or solid waste). You can use biogas to power electricity generators and produce heat, and you can use the solid waste as a fertiliser and soil conditioner. Read about anaerobic digestion on the Environment Agency website.
Biofuels are liquid fuels made from plant materials that can be used as a replacement for traditional diesel fuel. See the guide on industrial energy and non-food crops.
Biodiesel from waste vegetable oils can be used as a fuel for vehicles and farm machinery. Read about biodiesel and the production process on the Environment Agency website.
Biomass energy comes from plant-based fuel sources that have the potential to provide lower carbon heat and power than oil, gas or grid electricity. See the guide on how to generate your own renewable energy.
Alternatively powered vehicles are environmentally-efficient hybrid cars and battery-powered vehicles. For more information, see the guide on reducing your vehicle emissions.
Permits, licences and exemptions
You must make sure you have all the appropriate permits, licences and exemptions in place before you start developing your product or process and trialling activities.
Environmental permits and exemptions
You may need an environmental permit for your activities - for example, if you:
- have, or want to set up, a pig or poultry farm
- carry out certain waste recovery activities
- use organic solvents over certain limits
For more information, see the guide on environmental permits and licences - an overview.
Some activities that don’t need an environmental permit still need to be registered with the Environment Agency. These are called exempt activities. If you have registered an exemption, you must comply with the specific conditions for that exemption.
Air pollution control
If your activities release air pollutants into the environment, you may be committing an offence. You must get written authorisation from the Environment Agency or your local council if your activities are likely to result in releasing emissions to air. For more information, see the guide on air pollution on farms.
Water pollution prevention
If you pollute the water environment you may be committing an offence. You must get permission from your environmental regulator before you discharge anything other than clean, uncontaminated water - for example, clean roof water - to surface waters or groundwater. See the guide on water pollution on farms.
Water management: removal and impoundment licences
You may need an abstraction or impoundment licence if you:
- take or divert water from surface waters or groundwater, eg rivers, streams, lakes, canals, springs, wells, boreholes, coastal waters and estuaries
- hold back and store water on or from a watercourse, eg to create a reservoir
- build or alter any type of dam, weir or other impounding works
For more information, see the guide on how to use water efficiently - the basics.
If your activities involve using or manufacturing chemical substances, you must comply with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation.
If you have an unusual use for a substance, you should provide your suppliers with details of how you intend to use the chemical. This will allow them to include this information in their registration under REACH.
You can choose not to give your suppliers this information if you feel it will compromise your business. In this case, you must carry out your own chemical safety assessment. You must then provide this information to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
You may also need to meet other requirements depending on your activity and the type of chemical substances you are using or manufacturing. For example, if you have ozone-depleting substances (ODS) in refrigeration equipment or if you use hazardous chemicals as pesticides.
For more information, see the guide on managing hazardous waste.
Approval for new green technologies
If you have developed a new process or technology, you may need approval from the Environment Agency to test or use it. To find out whether or not you do need approval, you should contact them as soon as possible and provide them with as much information as you can about your proposals - eg chemical descriptions if appropriate, and information on past trials. You can contact the Environment Agency Helpline on 03708 506 506.
If your new process or technology does require approval from the Environment Agency, they will assess it on an individual basis. Even if you do not need approval to carry out a trial, if your trial or use causes pollution, this is an offence and you could be prosecuted.
If you plan to carry out any field trials on your product or process, you must contact your local Environment Agency office. If you are planning to run trials in more than one area, you will have to contact all area offices involved. You should also let each office know if you are contacting other offices.
If the Environment Agency decides that they need to test the environmental impact of your product or process, you have to stop using and developing it while they carry out the assessment. You can ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure neither they nor anyone else they involve in the testing can use your ideas and information.
Waste sample storage
If you store samples of waste for testing or research - for example, a waste type you are considering using as a feedstock in an anaerobic digester - an exemption from environmental permitting may apply to you. You can store up to 10 tonnes of waste samples at the site where they are to be tested. This is called a D5 exemption.
For details of other exemptions that might apply to you, see the guide on agricultural waste exemptions.
Agricultural waste exemptions
If your business produces any waste, including waste from research or trials, you must comply with your duty of care. If your waste is classed as hazardous waste, extra requirements will apply to you.
For more information on managing waste, see the guide on duty of care - your waste responsibilities.
If you store, treat or dispose of waste, even as part of research or development, you may need an environmental permit or an exemption from environmental permitting from the Environment Agency. You must have the appropriate permit or exemption in place before you start your activities.
If your activity is considered to pose a low risk to the environment it may be covered by a regulatory position statement or low risk position statement. Download a position statement about regulating trials of waste management activities from the Environment Agency website.
Alternatively, your activities may be exempt from the need for an environmental permit. Read about agricultural waste exemptions on the Environment Agency website.
Waste spreading permits
If you intend to spread waste - such as livestock slurries, solid manure or silage effluent - to agricultural land, these are not considered to be a waste.
For more information, see the guide on landspreading.
If you intend to spread waste, such as paper sludge or food waste, to restore or improve land, you may need a standard environmental permit or an exemption from environmental permitting. Exemption U10 allows you to spread certain listed waste types to agricultural land, and exemption U11 allows you to spread certain listed waste types to non-agricultural land.
If you spread fertilisers or manure, you should check if your farm is in an area classified as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ). If you are in an NVZ, you will have to comply with limits on the amount of fertiliser and manure you can spread. See the guide on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ).
Burning agricultural waste
There are some situations where you may burn waste - for example, to create energy or heat for poultry sheds, or to dispose of animal carcasses. If you burn waste, the Waste Incineration Directive (WID) is likely to apply to you. If WID applies you will need an environmental permit.
If you carry out research or burn certain types of waste, you may be excluded from WID. Experimental plants used for research, development and testing to improve the incineration process are excluded from WID if they burn less than 50 tonnes of waste per year. However, even if you are excluded from WID, you may still need a permit or exemption.
For more information, see the guide on non-hazardous waste: treatment and disposal.
Biodiesel: production and use
If you treat waste edible oil and fat to produce biodiesel, you will need to register a T19 exemption with the Environment Agency. This allows you to filter, blend and heat waste oils to make them suitable for use as a fuel in vehicles and farm machinery. Read about exemption T19: physical treatment of waste oil and fat to produce biodiesel on the Environment Agency website.
To store and use waste-derived biodiesel as fuel in portable generators and vehicles, you will need to register a U5 exemption. Read about exemption U5: use of waste-derived biodiesel as fuel on the Environment Agency website.
Waste Quality Protocols
The Environment Agency and WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) are developing Quality Protocols for businesses. These help businesses make better use of resources, and encourage businesses to turn waste into valuable resources instead of sending it to landfill.
A number of waste materials are being considered to see if they can be recovered and turned into useful quality products. This can bring benefits to the producer, recycler and the end user.
Further information on business innovation for agriculture
There are several sources of further information and guidance on developing green activities in your agriculture business.
The Environment Agency is responsible for protecting and improving the environment as well as promoting sustainable development. They also work to protect communities from flooding risks and manage water resources. You can contact the Environment Agency Helpline on 03708 506 506.
Envirowise provides free, independent support to businesses and organisations to help you become more resource efficient by minimising the wastes you accumulate. You save in your waste costs and reduce the impact on the environment, following Envirowise’s waste hierarchy to eliminate, reduce, reuse, recycle and dispose of your waste. You can contact the Envirowise Advice Line on 0800 585 794.
The Technology Strategy Board supports collaboration between businesses, universities and government departments to find innovative solutions in areas where society faces challenges. These areas include sustainable farming and food. See the guide on the Technology Strategy Board.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is the national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness. The HSE operates numerous safety campaigns, including those for agriculture, considered one of the most dangerous industries in the UK. Find advice about workplace health and safety on the HSE website.
One of the major roles of the Defra is to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. Defra administers European support policies that provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. You can call the Defra Helpline on 08459 33 55 77.
Farming Futures offer information and advice on farming and climate change issues. Read low carbon farming advice and news on the Farming Futures website. Farming Futures also runs on-farm workshops throughout England where farmers can find out how to reduce their impact on and adapt to climate change.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for drawing up legislation based on EU regulations or directives on the composition, labelling, marketing and safety of food and animal feed. It is also responsible for guidance on compliance with feed hygiene requirements and for ensuring that food law and animal feed law is enforced. You can contact the FSA Helpline on 020 7276 8829.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is responsible for licences and schemes for growers as well as for running the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). For more information about SPS and how it can help your farming business, you can call the RPA Helpline on 0345 603 7777.
You can also read the guide on the SPS.
In England, the Farm Advisory System advises farmers about cross compliance. For further information, call the Cross Compliance Helpline on 0345 345 1302. Alternatively, find information on cross compliance requirements on the Cross Compliance website.
As a farmer, you are also likely to come into contact with local authorities, which are responsible for enforcing various regulations on farming, land use, food standards and environmental matters. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.
Carbon Trust Advice Line
0800 085 2005
Environment Agency Helpline
03708 506 506
Cross Compliance Helpline
0845 345 1302
Envirowise Advice Line
0800 585 794