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Parish asks Environment Agency to revisit Farming Rules for Water

28th Oct 2021 / By Alistair Driver

Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, has asked the Environment Agency to review its interpretation of rules on the spreading of organic manure by farmers this autumn. 

Neil ParishMr Parish's intervention comes after he was contacted by MP Anthony Mangnall and a group of stakeholders, led by the Tenant Farmers Association and including the NPA, who are concerned that the EA's current interpretation of this regulation would prevent farmers from spreading organic manure in the autumn, to meet the need of the spring crop.

The NPA and other farming groups have raised concern that, under the Agency’s current interpretation of the Farming Rules for Water - Rule 1, farmers who want to apply organic fertiliser in the autumn, for a spring crop, are required to inform the Agency that they have broken the law.  

However, in a letter to the Agency, Mr Parish said that farmers were understandably reluctant to say that they had broken rules because a responsible application of organic manure in autumn was a well-established part of good soil management.  

This approach, Mr Parish said, ensures nitrogen applied in the autumn was available to crops in the spring. He pointed out that it is not possible to apply organic manure in the spring because it will destroy the crop.  

The Devon MP added that if farmers are prevented from using organic fertiliser, they are likely to use inorganic products instead, which have a higher carbon footprint - which would be counter the government’s carbon net zero ambitions.

He stressed that EFRA supports the agency’s aim of reducing agricultural pollution but is concerned that its current interpretation of the regulations was disproportionate, penalising farmers who follow the rules while not doing enough to stop bad practice by those who did not. 

He has therefore asked the Agency urgently to revisit its approach to ensure it does not prevent the responsible application of organic manure in autumn, calling for a clear, updated interpretation of the rules.

Given the urgent need to spread fertiliser this autumn, he asked for a reply from the agency by Friday October 29 and said the Committee planned to publish the Environment Agency’s response.  

NPA policy services officer Lizzie Wilson welcomed Mr Parish's letter, which she said highlighted the concerns of many people in the pig sector and other parts of the farming community. 

"Hopefully, this will put some pressure on the Environment Agency to clarify its position and give clear assurances to farmers about what they can and can't do," she said.