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Rules on spreading slurry - does the EA's new approach provide a reprieve for farmers?

View profile for Rebecca Ironmonger
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Last August, Rebecca Ironmonger from our Regulatory Team discussed the Environment Agency’s Regulatory Position Statement on the use of organic manure over Autumn/Winter 2021/22. Here, Rebecca provides an update on the EA’s approach.

Last week, on 30 March 2022, the Environment Agency published new guidance titled ‘Applying the farming rules for water’ which replaces last year’s Regulatory Position Statement which caused so much worry for farmers.

The new guidance differs from the RPS in that farmers are allowed to spread organic matter over the autumn and winter where it has a low readily available nitrogen (RAN) content i.e. less than 30% and all reasonable precautions are taken reduce the risk of diffuse pollution. Most farmyard manures will fall into the low RAN category.

Where the RAN content of the organic manure is higher than 30%, as with some slurries and digestates, and you use all reasonable precautions to prevent diffuse pollution, you can spread them as long as one of the following conditions is met:

  • You do not spread on tillage land with sandy or shallow soils between 1 August and end of February, tillage land with any other soils between 1 October and end of February, grassland with sandy or shallow soils between 1 September and end of February and grassland with any other soils between 15 October and end of February.
  • If you spread during the above time periods, you only apply manure at a rate of 30m3/ha for high RAN organic manures or 8t/ha for high RAN poultry manures, leaving at least 21 days between applications.
  • If you spread during the above time periods, you use an application rate sufficient for autumn/winder commercial crops (not cover crops)

In the majority of cases, the reasonable precautions you must use are to have green cover established on the land you wish to spread organic manure on by 15 October, unless you can demonstrate appropriate justifications for not doing so. Another reasonable precaution which should be taken if possible is to incorporate the manure into the soil as soon as possible after spreading.

The EA have confirmed they will be focussing on guidance and advice before taking enforcement action.

Although there are improvements in the new guidance as compared to the RPS, many farmers will need to change their practices and plans in time for this autumn. Regardless of changes which some will need to make, the new guidance does provide a welcome reprieve for farmers, particularly in a climate where inorganic fertiliser is going to be harder to come by and far more expensive to purchase. Whether the EA will change their approach to the Farming Rules for Water yet again next year, we will just have to wait and see.

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