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«Manure tour» – experience exchange among farmers from Russia, Finland and Estonia

How to use farming waste to develop agriculture and at the same time to avoid pollution of rivers and seas? Ecocentrum Ltd and Friends of the Baltic NGO with support of Coalition Clean Baltic held an educational trip to Estonia and Finland on April 12-16, 2018. The aim of event is experience exchange among farmers from tree countries (Russia, Estonia, Finland) on waste management.

Farmers from Gatchinsky, Slantsevsky, Volosovsky and Vyborgsky districts of Leningrad region took part in the study tour; representatives of Association of farmers, private farm holdings ? and co-operatives of Leningrad Region and St. Petersburg, a member of agricultural cooperative, an assistant to the State Duma deputy for development of livestock and agriculture in the Leningrad Region, as well as media.

The main goal of the trip was to get acquainted with different environmental aspects of sustainable agriculture, tasks and solutions to reduce the environmental impact to the Baltic Sea, examples of organic agriculture development, and biogas production experience from livestock waste.
Participants visited 6 farms (goats, cows, pigs), Finnish Association of farmers, biogas plant worked on livestock waste, have a meeting with representatives of Green Party of Estonia and Estonian Water Association.

Cattle breeding development in the neighboring countries:
● Cattle breeding is high-developed part of agriculture in neighboring countries: for example, there were 48,500 agricultural enterprises in Finland last year. Finnish farmers completely provide the domestic market with pork and poultry, and 80% of beef;
● Family farms are very popular in Estonia and Finland. Finnish Farmers Association estimates that 86% of farms are family farming. Many farms are several hundred years old. The participants were lucky to visit the Estonian farm more than 300 years old and a farm on Parainen Island in Finland with a castle that has existed since the 13th century;
● European Union supports environmental purposes: there are grants and subsidies to save valuable areas, to reduce the number of livestock capita, not to use pesticides and chemicals. For example, if Finnish and Estonian farmers prefer manure for his fields instead of mineral fertilizer he can apply for a subsidy (in Finland - 40 EUR per hectare);
● Animals, living on visited farms, received natural feed (hay, silage, grain), in summer they are free to graze on the open air, but farmers can also keep animals on a leash - it is not forbidden by law. Much attention is paid to humane treatment of animals (piglets retain their tails, broilers retain their beaks);
● Farms are often located very close to living areas. Good example – visited in Finland farm with 3 600 sows, which produces 100,000 piglets per year, is located only 190 meters from the nearest neighbor houses;
● Communication with neighbors is very important for farmers in Estonia and Finland – farmer should inform public about any initiatives, and take feedback from the public (especially about leaks, smells).

EU Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC, 12 December 1991) regulates biogens management in Estonia and Finland. The directive sets the task of preventing and reducing water pollution from nutrients from agriculture. According to the document, each country identifies areas vulnerable to contamination with biogens ("sensitive areas"). In Finland, this is the whole country (because of many lakes).

Manure management methods that participants are acquainted with:
● The simplest method is distribution among citizens;
● Storage for 8-12 months and entering on own fields when it is required;
● Manure storages on all visited farms have a concreted bottom, but have not a roof. One of the visited farmers uses wells along the perimeter of the manure storage to control infiltration into the groundwater - water control are carried out every year;

There are clear requirements about fertilizers – when it is necessary to put fertilizers and how many:
- If ground waters are close to the surface, in that case fertilizers have not put inside the soil at all;
- It’s forbidden to apply fertilizers during from November 1 to March 31;
- Maximum amount of nitrogen - 170 kg per hectare per year;
- Do not use fertilizers on snow-covered and icy soils (it was wide-sharing method);

● Manure put to the fields in various ways: spraying method, injection method (the machine makes holes in the soil and put prepaid manure to a depth of 5 cm);
● the balance of nitrogen and phosphorus (that means the difference between the input and the extracted amount of these elements) in countries is very different from region to region. In this case, there are regions with a positive and negative balance. Nowadays, technologies for removing liquid and air from manure are developed. It is important for manure transportation from zones of excess to zones with deficit;

In Estonia, the practice of processing livestock waste in electricity and heat at biogas stations is used. The equipment is expensive, so one large plant for a large number of farms is much more cost effective than putting a separate biogas plant on each farm. In Estonia there are about 10 such plants, they do not have a shortage of raw materials, and it is very convenient for the farmer - the transport company hired by the plant takes their waste independently, and then the farmer can get free fertilizer, use it for their fields or sell. For a biogas plant visited, electricity production from biogas has not been very profitable lately due to a strong fluctuation in the cost of electricity in the market: plans are to improve the biogas treatment system to more than 90% of methane and almost completely switch to the production of such bio-methane for sale to other companies. According to the new EU legislation, companies that deal with gas supplies are required to have 10% of biogas. This situation has a favorable effect on the trends in the development of the biogas industry in Estonia. In Estonia, there is also the Biogas Association, whose task is to promote the production of biogas in the country.

To combat nutrient pollution and odor, one of the Finnish farmers who grows pigs and pigs has come up with the following method: it cools the manure using the heat to heat its premises. The manure is stored and divided into fractions in special tanks: they do not have a flat, as usual, but inclined bottom, and there is no roof on top (instead, the surface of the manure covered with polystyrene balls with a diameter of 2-3 mm). The owner of the farm leaves the tents without a roof specifically to prevent rainwater from falling - studies have shown that when mixed with 7-10% of water, ammonium is absorbed by the soil. Foam plastic balls on the surface form a layer against odor. This experimental method passes approbation. Separation into solid and liquid fractions contributes to a separate accumulation of a nitric (liquid) and phosphoric (solid) component for the further ecologically competent redistribution of these substances to fields. Due to the inclined bottom, the liquid fraction flows into special pipes, at the end of each pipe a special machine is connected, which through the hose system brings it to the fields. In the fields, nitrogen-loving crops are grown in turn - 3 years of winter wheat and 1 year of rape, then the cycle repeats.

● In the neighboring countries, an environmental project WWF (World Wildlife Fund) is being implemented that allows Baltic Sea Region farmers to compete for the Baltic Sea Farmer Award (up to 10,000 euros) - a reward for contributing to the reduction of pollution in the Baltic. In 2018, Russia also takes part in the contest (more - bfn.org.ru). This amount serves as a pleasant encouragement for environmental activities and contribution to reducing the pollution of the Baltic Sea!

The trip is organized in the framework of the Barents-Baltic Program "Nature and Man".

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