Commodity Watch - UFU lobbying continues on proposed changes to Nitrates Action Programme

Saturday, 13 September, 2014

The Ulster Farmers’ Union Environment Committee is continuing to lobby on the review of the Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme and associated regulations. The current Action Programme is finishing its four year cycle and the DARD and DOE have been seeking views on the next four year Action Programme which will begin in 2015.  A consultation was issued earlier in the summer, and after full consideration within all the UFU Policy Committees, the UFU submitted a detailed response outlining the views of the organisation on the proposals (this response is available on the UFU website).  This consultation also considered the Silage Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil (SSAFO) Regulations and the Phosphorus Regulations.

The UFU response highlighted the environmental successes which local farmers have delivered to date.  The farming industry have invested over £200 million, assisted by DARD, to meet the requirements of the first Nitrates Action Programme and the results have been very positive.  There has been a continued reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers on local farms and the long term trend shows that nitrate and phosphate in our water bodies is decreasing and this is a result of the efforts and investment by local farmers.    NIEA also report that compliance with the measures is generally very good with an overall compliance rate of 98%.

Based on the improvements outlined above and the impracticalities of many of the new proposals, the UFU has strongly objected to changes to a number of measures.  The UFU has serious concerns around the proposed requirement to submit records annually for all farmers import/exporting organic manures to NIEA; additional controls on spreading on steeply sloping land; covering of poultry litter stored in outdoor middens; some of the wording and proposed definitions outlined in the draft legislation which the UFU feel would allow inspectors to breach more farmers; limits governing the limits on the land application of organic manures with a high P to N ration which could include poultry manures and digestate; and the covering all new outdoor slurry stores from 2017.  The UFU have also opposed the inclusion of the current SSAFO Regulations into the Nitrates Regulations as this would bring a number of additional measures under cross-compliance.  All of the above the UFU feel would have detrimental impacts on many local farmers.

While the UFU have many concerns about the proposed changes to the current Nitrates Action Programme, there are some positive amendments suggested and it should be noted that DARD and DOE appear to have convinced the EC that the closed periods should not be changed despite coming under considerable pressure to extend this.  Revised figures for nitrogen application to arable crops have also been proposed which will simplify the current arrangements and will allow more flexibility for those growing crops.  There are also proposals for new phosphorus recommendations for grassland which are to be welcomed.  The importance of local research work carried out by AFBI to support these changes is recognised.

The UFU held a further meeting with DARD and DOE this week to discuss the proposals and again outlined the concerns of local farmers.  DARD/DOE will now hold further meetings with the EC and following these are likely to bring forward revised legislation to the NI Assembly.  A new Guidance Booklet will also be produced and the UFU will be involved in its development to ensure that it is simple and effective.

Farmers should note that the proposed changes to the Nitrates rules are only under discussion at this point in time and that the current rules remain in place until such time as the relevant legislation is amended and new Guidance issued.  Farmers should also be reminded that the closed period for spreading organic manures will begin on 16th October 2014 therefore spreading can continue until midnight on 15th October as long as weather and soil conditions are satisfactory.  The UFU would encourage farmers to take advantage of the good ground and weather conditions to allow slurry tanks to be managed in advance of the impending closed period.