Crop nutrition plans are in turmoil after the Environment Agency decided farmers jump through numerous hoops before spreading organic manure this autumn.
On any level, the agency’s move to potentially limit and even prohibit the spreading of manure, slurry and biosolids is a truly bizarre decision. And it was one greeted with surprise, shock and then anger.
It means laboratory analysis of all manures will be essential to know their total and available nutrient content before they can be spread this autumn. Soil testing every field for nutrients must also be undertaken.
The agency’s interpretation of the government’s Farming Rules for Water is confused and lacking in clarity. And many farmers will find it unworkable – particularly the requirement to plan nutrient applications so as not to exceed soil and crop needs.
The rules were introduced three years ago. But the agency says large amounts of organic manure are still being applied to arable stubbles each autumn – even though there is no crop need or where phosphate levels are already sufficient.
It has been suggested that manure applications must not be planned on land with a slope greater and eight degrees, light in soil type with P indices of 3 or above or that has been sub soiled or mole drained within 12 months.
But as has been pointed out, none of these factors are regulatory.
Perhaps most confusingly, however, the agency’s interpretation of the rules flies in the face of Defra’s efforts to encourage farmers to improve the structure and organic content of their soils – a cornerstone of government policy.
Applying organic manure to fields is a centuries-old way to improve soil health. It is also a key way to dispose of treated sewage sludge which was – until recently – pumped out to sea at great environmental cost.
Who knows where those biosolids will end up now? But that is the least of many worries for farmers who now face significant changes to the way they store and spread manure – and a significant cost too.