Farmers can use ‘reasonable excuse’ to spread slurry during closed period

Thursday, 12 October, 2017

The Ulster Farmers’ Union says that the wet weather has made it nearly impossible to spread slurry safely on many farms across Northern Ireland and farmers are understandably concerned as the closed period deadline approaches. “It is a very stressful situation and we have been inundated with calls. We have been monitoring the ground and weather conditions since early summer and have been in regular contact with DAERA and NIEA to highlight the difficulties facing farmers,” says UFU president Barclay Bell.

ADVICE FOR FARMERS ON MANAGING THE SLURRY SITUATION

If you are forced to spread when conditions are not suitable, you may be able to use the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause. To do so, you must keep detailed records of evidence showing that you have taken all reasonable steps to manage the situation. Check out the points below:-

  • You do NOT have to notify NIEA or DAERA when you are forced to spread slurry during the closed period.
  • There is no deadline for the spreading of slurry under the clause of ‘reasonable excuse.’
  • Keep records (pictures/videos of weather and ground conditions, rain fall data) and be able to produce them if inspected by NIEA. The UFU has created a template to help farmers keep records. Available from HQ or local group offices.
  • Ensure you meet the minimum legal requirements for slurry storage on your farm (26 weeks for pigs and poultry and 22 weeks for other enterprises).
  • Be able to show that slurry has been properly managed outside the closed period and been spread appropriately.
  • Ensure clean storm water is being diverted away from slurry tanks.
  • Ensure you have exhausted all other alternatives such as renting extra storage space or using straw bedding.
  • When spreading, take steps to protect against water pollution such as increasing the distance spread from water or spreading on flatter fields.
  • Spread the minimum necessary to prove sufficient capacity, to manage it until the end of the closed period.

The UFU is reassuring farmers that if they are unable to get their slurry out before 15th October, they may be able to spread slurry during the closed period under the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause in the Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) - a clause the UFU fought for during the 2005/2006 NAP negotiations. It covers exceptional circumstances when, through no fault of their own, farmers cannot fully comply with the rules.

“The reasonable excuse clause is as a last resort. No farmer wants to risk their basic payment by spreading slurry during the closed period. However, the current ground and weather conditions are making compliance impossible and some farmers may be left with no other choice. It is better to spread slurry during the closed period under this clause at a time when conditions are more favourable than rush and risk a farm accident or pollution,” says the UFU president. 

Farmers do NOT have to notify DAERA or NIEA before spreading under the reasonable excuse clause but they must keep detailed records. Outlining how they managed their slurry before the closed period, the weather and ground conditions, how much storage they have, and that they have exhausted all other options.

“There is no need to notify NIEA or DAERA before spreading but you must keep detailed records. We recommend including photos or videos of weather and ground conditions and rainfall data. The UFU has a template that farmers can use to record this information and staff can assist members with completing this. This must be available if you are inspected by NIEA," says Mr Bell adding that those forced to spread slurry during the closed period should take extra precautions to prevent accidental pollution.

Mr Bell says that EU Commission officials are keeping a close eye on Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in relation to the current rules. They have scrutinised the monitoring of spreading practices and water quality data. "We do not want to give the EU Commission any excuse to impose more legislation. Being able to show we acted responsibly in these difficult conditions is our best defence. I would, however, encourage the EU Commission and government authorities to be mindful of the stress farmers are currently under. Farmers are the first friends of the earth and since the introduction of the closed spreading period we have made every attempt to comply with the regulations. However, farming by calendar dates poses a real challenge when it comes to the practicalities of running a farm and unpredictable weather.