Environment Agency seeks to uphold autumn muckspreading ban
The Environment Agency (EA) is showing no signs of softening its approach towards spreading farmyard manure and slurry in the autumn, despite pressure from MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee and regular meetings with industry via a working group.
The restrictions came into play this year, following a stricter interpretation of the 2018 Farming Rules for Water by the EA, which insisted spreading of organic matter should only be allowed to meet the immediate nutrient needs of the crop.
See also: What do the Farming Rules for Water mean?
This effectively ruled out the spreading of organic manures from 1 September on grassland and cereals, limiting any application to winter oilseed rape, which would have an immediate need.
Following widespread industry complaints and lobbying, the EA did introduce a temporary exemption – Regulatory Position Statement 252 – which has allowed some spreading this autumn, but with tight conditions attached.
For example, farmers had to pre-notify the EA of any spreading, and could only do so if there were no alternative ways of disposing of the organic matter.
Letter exchangeThe negative impact of these restrictions were set out in a letter from chair of the Efra committee of MPs, Neil Parish, to EA chief executive Sir James Bevan in late October.
In the letter, he said spreading organic matter in the autumn “is a well-established part of good soil management”. It enabled nutrients to be available to the crop in the spring, while incorporating it into the soil, before a crop was planted, would reduce air pollution.
Preventing farmers from using organic fertiliser in the autumn would also make them more likely to use bagged fertiliser, which “costs more, has a higher carbon footprint and increases ammonia nitrate levels – which run counter to government net-zero and clean air ambitions.
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But in his reply, Sir James makes it clear that the EA is not for turning. He explains that farmers may still spread organic matter (such as green compost) in the autumn – so long as it “does not contain nutrients that are not needed”.
And he makes clear that RPS 252 was “specifically designed to help farmers this autumn”, providing no hint that the provisions will be extended to next year.
Working groupTo try to find some compromise, a working group was set up by Defra in September, including farmer representatives and agronomists.
But reports from members of that group suggest progress has been almost non-existent, with Defra preoccupied with avoiding diffuse pollution.
“The NFU and wider industry is fully committed to delivering the outcomes desired for water quality and the wider environment,” said NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts.
“However, our concern is that the Environment Agency’s rigid interpretation of this legislation will have a hugely damaging impact on the farming sector.
“The current approach presents significant policy conflicts with government ambitions on improving soil health, lowering emissions and farming’s carbon footprint.”
“We firmly believe that working with farming and other organisations to look at how we improve the efficient use of organic manures is the best way to avoid these unintended consequences and importantly, deliver for water quality.
“The NFU will continue discussions with the Environment Agency, government and industry stakeholders to develop these solutions as part of a collaborative and holistic approach.”
So come March after another wet spring farmers will all be plastering the countryside with dung & slurry to get rid if it, this has to be the most insane set of rules yet, where is the NFU's backbone in refusing to go along with this crass stupidity!!