Farming News - Farming industry ‘sleepwalking into disaster’ over impact of Farming Rules for Water

Farming industry ‘sleepwalking into disaster’ over impact of Farming Rules for Water

A manure and slurry spreading and storage crisis is about to hit agriculture, as a result of the Environment Agency’s ‘Farming Rules for Water’ (FRW), so a leading adviser has warned.

FRW, which apply across the whole of England, will effectively preclude autumn and winter spreading on many farms, heralding a huge problem which no one yet seems to have a solution to, warns Charles Mayson of Herefordshire-based cross-compliance experts CXCS.

“FRW deems that spreading can’t take place if there is no ‘crop need’, so this would mean it can’t be done on grass in its dormant period. Anyone applying poultry litter ahead of sowing winter cereals could find themselves in breach of the rules, too.

“It also precludes any manure spreading on land which has soil P and K indices of 3 or above, which is the case on a lot of dairy farms.

“If your crop need is zero, your justification is zero, so the amount you can spread is zero. This could lead to a situation where a lot of farmers simply won’t be able to spread their own manure on their own land.”

FRW – issued in 2018 and containing 8 new main rules – has been seen as largely treated as ‘advisory’, but that is set to change, according to Mr Mayson. “What’s advisory today often becomes handcuffs tomorrow.

“We already have restrictions on timing, quantities and other aspects of manure application from the NVZ rules which cover about half of England, but all farming operations in England are affected by FRW.

“Nobody has any answers apart from ‘exports’, but if all your neighbours' are similarly situated with fertile soils from decades of muck spreading, this won’t be practical. AD isn’t a solution  either, as the digestate has to go somewhere and that has the highest available N of all organic manures.”

It’s not just dairy farms facing a “bombshell”, adds Mr Mayson – anyone who has repeatedly applied dressings of poultry litter or digestate could be adversely affected by the ‘need’ test.

“There is a necessary movement of materials on and between farms and you can’t suddenly put a halt to one aspect of that.”

Over the next 5 to 10 years, farmers will respond by installing extra storage facilities and there will be a big shift to spring and summer spreading, but in the short term FRW will be impossible to comply with, suggests Mr Mayson.

“I have raised this repeatedly with the authorities and industry leaders and no one has yet come up with a solution. We could be sleepwalking into a disaster.

“Farmers’ only hope is that the Environment Agency – who often do approach issues in a realistic, practical and lenient way – view FRW as advice and guidance rather than going down the enforcement and prosecution route which could lead to a lot of penalties and a lot of pain for farmers.

“Over recent years, farmers have got much better at taking account of soil nutrient reserves when planning manure and fertiliser inputs, rather than just treating it as a by-product or an inconvenience.

“This is a game-changer and understanding ‘crop need’, along with analysing soil reserves and producing a appropriate NPK program, will become ever-more important.

“The sentiment behind the FRW provisions makes sense – we all want to see the environment protected – but no one has yet addressed the practical problems it will create,” concludes Mr Mayson.