Recently there has been a lot of talk about the Farming Rules for Water and specifically the spreading of organic manure in the autumn. The issue is, under Rule 1, when organic manure is applied to agricultural land, the application must not exceed the needs of the soil or crop on the land and must not give rise to a significant risk of agricultural diffuse pollution. This effectively makes autumn and winter spreading on a lot of farms impossible. For example, if spreading can only take place if there is a crop need, this would mean grass, which is dormant at this time of year, would have no crop need and therefore spreading cannot take place. The rules are not new, but it appears the EA note has highlighted the issue to the industry and perhaps indicates a more robust approach to enforcement from the EA.
However, for this autumn, the Environment Agency (EA) has released a Regulatory Position Statement (RPS) on the application of organic manure. This means if the conditions of the RPS are followed it will be possible to have a plan to apply organic manure to agricultural land that may exceed the needs of the soil or crop on that land. But importantly, the plan must not cause a risk of pollution. Those using the RPS will still need to show that applications do not exceed the requirements of the crop for the whole duration of its growing cycle. Farmers must also be able to show that using the RPS is the only option and it has not been feasible to store the organic manure at the place of production or use. They must also demonstrate that it has not been possible to store the manure off-site or send it to an AD plant or other effluent treatment plant.
Following lobbying from the NFU, the EA updated its guidance further on 25th August to include a ‘hierarchy’ of actions:
1). If you can follow Rule 1 of the Farming Rules for Water, then you do not need to use the RPS – carry on with your planned activities.
2). If you can follow the conditions in the RPS – tell the Environment Agency you are using the RPS as described in the ‘contact’ section (see below) and carry on with your activities.
3). If you cannot comply with the conditions in the RPS, email [email protected] or call 03708 506 506 (general enquiries). The Environment Agency will assess the risk of your activities. For this autumn, it will allow activities that will not cause significant risks (significant risk may result from repeated applications to the same field or spreading close to protected sites, such as Natura 2000 sites). You must not start your activities until the Environment Agency confirms you can do so.
Contact details for the EA and full guidance can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/spreading-organic-manure-on-agricultural-land-rps-252/spreading-organic-manure-on-agricultural-land-rps-252. The RPS will be withdrawn on 1st March 2022, unless there is a further extension. This is only a short term ‘fix’ to the problem, which will arise again next autumn. Many in the industry have raised concerns as to how practical the rules are. A move to more storage and spring and summer spreading looks like the only solution, but this will take time and money. If you are having difficulties adhering to the rules or require further clarification, please contact one of our consultants for advice.