Farm leaders are continuing to highlight industry concerns after the Environment Agency confirmed a stricter approach to spreading organic manures.
It follows an agency announcement last month which critics say will prevent many farmers from spreading slurry, manure and sewage sludge on farmland during the autumn and winter months.
The latest interpretation of the government’s Farming Rules for Water means farmers must ensure they have a pollution prevention plan in place – and ensure applications to not exceed the needs of the soil or the crop.
The government says the decision will allow farmers to continue spreading organic manures. But critics say the interpretation is unworkable – including the requirement for farmers to notify the agency of any applications.
Farmers wishing to spread organic manures should take independent advice to ensure that they understand any potential implications of doing so – and to ensure they are compliant with Farming Rules for Water, says the NFU.
Many of the rules are unclear – including an uncertain timescale for measuring potential leaching rates. There is also concern that farmers could incriminate themselves by telling the agency they are spreading manure.
NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts said: “This announcement is a missed opportunity to provide much needed clarity for farmers who have significant concerns on how Rule 1 of the farming rules for water regulations is being interpreted.
“I am deeply disappointed with the content of the statement by the Environment Agency, which sets an idealistic and impractical barrier in many farming situations.”
Mr Roberts said the NFU had made multiple approaches over the past two years urging Defra and the Environment Agency to set achievable objectives to make best use of organic manures, slurries and biowastes.
“This seems to have been ignored, and I am still to hear from Defra ministers despite having written twice
in recent months. To find ourselves in this situation so close to autumn shows a complete lack of appreciation of the bigger picture.”
Legislation must be applied in a way that recognised the wider benefits of using organic manures, said Mr Roberts. Organic manures improved soil health – replacing manmade fertilisers while reducing ammonia emissions compared to spring applications.
“Farmers have made great strides over recent decades in reducing key agricultural emissions. We’ve seen a major reduction in the amount of manures and fertiliser applied to farmland and held in the soil.”
This meant fewer nutrients reaching rivers. “Much of this progress has been made by farmers taking voluntary action through industry-led initiatives to drive improvements that benefit the water environment, as well as on farm productivity.
“We can do more with investment through incentives, such as the Slurry Investment Scheme and the Environmental Land Management scheme, working alongside initiatives such as Catchment Sensitive Farming.”