NPA expresses concern over Farming Rules for Water clarification
4th Aug 2021 / By Alistair Driver
The NPA has warned that the Environment Agency's long-awaited statement on the Farming Rules for water could have a significant impact on pig and arable producers.
The agency has clarified the requirements of the Farming Rules for Water - Rule 1, which relates to the application of organic materials in England.
It has published a Regulatory Position Statement (RPS) that allows farmers to apply organic manure to agricultural land that may exceed the needs of the soil or crop on that land, but must not cause a risk of pollution. It requires farmers to plan nutrient applications of organic material (livestock manures and slurries, digestate and biosolids) and manufactured fertiliser to crops, taking into account risks to water from nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P).
The agency said the RPS will enable current practice to continue in most situations and alleviate the immediate concerns of those managing large quantities of organic material.
However, following initial consultation with members the NPA is concerned that this will not be the case as the RPS contains elements that could have a significant impact on pig and arable farmers.
Many pig producers will not be able to comply with some of the conditions, such as preventing application on a sandy or a shallow soil.
There is also a new application limit of 5kg/ha of nitrate/nitrogen to be leached, which producers can calculate using Planet/Manner-NPK.
The former means, therefore, that East Anglian producers will still be unable to apply FYM, whilst the latter will severely restrict the application of slurry this autumn, NPA policy services officer Lizzie Wilson.
The Environment Agency’s interpretation of rule 1 (or Regulation 4), which has been subject to intense scrutiny and discussion for some time, requires that:
The application of organic manure and manufactured fertiliser to agricultural land must be planned so that the application does not exceed the needs of the soil and crop on land, or give rise to a significant risk of agricultural diffuse pollution. They must also consider the weather conditions and forecasts for the land at the time of application. It applies to all organic manures and all land managers.
To use the RPS, farmers must still be able to show that planned applications to land do not exceed the crop requirements for the duration of your current planned crop cycle.
It does not apply to circumstances that you can avoid or plan for. For example, spreading organic manure to supply nutrients to land which will not be used for growing a commercial crop in the same season.
Farmers must have a contingency plan to avoid causing pollution of the environment that shows the use of the RPS is the only option. The plan should include field inspections to assess whether organic manures are likely to get into surface water or groundwater.
Farmers must have a contingency plan to avoid causing pollution of the environment that shows the use of the RPS is your only option. The plan should include field inspections to assess whether organic manures are likely to get into surface water or groundwater.
Farmers can have a planned application of organic manure to agricultural land that exceeds the crop and soil needs on that land provided it does not cause pollution and meets certain conditions:
- You can only spread organic materials on low leaching and run-off risk land. For the purposes of the RPS that is where:
- The soil is not a sandy or shallow, within the meaning of the nitrate vulnerable zones
- The land is not left bare over winter
- It is land with an average slope of less than 8 degrees, and drainage is not impeded (ie does not have compacted soil or a soil surface which is capped - you can only spread where the soil is permeable and has a good structure)
- The soil is not at field capacity above a land drainage system (other than sealed impermeable pipe) or shallow groundwater
- The land does not have cracked soil above a land drainage system or shallow groundwater
- the land has not been pipe-drained, mole-drained, or sub-soiled in the last 12 months
- The land is not within a designated groundwater source protection zone 1
- You spread at least 10 metres from surface water or a conduit leading to surface water
- You spread at least 50 metres from springs, wells, and boreholes
- You can only spread when weather and ground conditions allow in accordance with the Farming Rules for Water and good agricultural practice.
The RPS applies only for spreading up to 1 March 2022 and farmers must tell the EA they are using it. The EA says that will enable it to demonstrate the RPS is necessary and there is a demand for it, if it is needed in future years.
- You can view EA guidance on the RPS HERE
- You can download a comprehensive EA Q&A on the new rules HERE
- You can view industry guidance that the NPA has contributed to HERE
NPA policy services officer Lizzie Wilson said: “NPA have been involved in discussions on the change in practice required for some time and highlighted the potential significant impact on nutrient planning, diffuse pollution and ultimately farming businesses.
“We are pleased, therefore, that the Environment Agency has considered industry’s concerns and provided a degree of clarity on the spreading of slurry and FYM ahead of the autumn application period.
“However, this will only resolve the issue for some producers and for this growing season only. We are concerned that the majority of producers will still not be able to use the RPS.
"We will continue to engage with other industry stakeholders, the Environment Agency and with government to find a long-term, more sustainable solution beyond spring 2022 that benefits both farmers and the environment.”
If members are able to use the RPS, NPA asks that they contact the EA to inform them as requested to ensure not only are they operating lawfully but to also highlight the scale of the issue.