Environment Agency explains farming rules for water

The Environment Agency has clarified the rules concerning the application of organic manures or manufactured fertilisers in preparation for autumn planting.

After updating the NPA on the timing of the requirement to cover slurry stores, the agency has also sought to shed light light on another area of uncertainty – what the farming rules for water could mean for farmers.

Rule 1 sets out the requirements for nutrient applications, ‘building on the positive, professional and responsible approach to the use of organic materials and fertilisers the farming sector has worked hard to develop’, the agency said.

“The application of organic manures or manufactured fertiliser must be planned so that it does not exceed the needs of the soil and crop on the land and does not give rise to a significant risk of water pollution and also takes into account the weather conditions and forecasts for the land at the time of the application.

“In addition, reasonable precautions must be taken to prevent water pollution from the application.

“Planning must take into account the results of soil testing, which must be done at least every five years on land that is cultivated by physical or chemical means. Soil nitrogen levels can be used to assess N levels instead of soil testing.”

The agency stressed that farming rules for water do not impose a ban on the application of any organic manure or manufactured fertiliser.

“The nutrient needs of each farm and field can be different in terms of what is required, and when, to meet crop and soil needs. What the farmer needs to know is that anything beyond that, or applications that pose a significant risk of pollution are likely to represent breaches of rules 1-5 of the Farming rules for water,” the agency added.

When assessing compliance Environment Agency officers will consider organic manure and manufactured fertiliser applications, and their planning, on a field by field basis.

More details of the rules can be found on www.gov.uk/defra/farmingrulesforwater

NPA policy services officer Lizzie Wilson said the briefing offered some clarity, but there were still concerns about how the agency will interpret the rules, especially around phosphorous. There is still no real clarity on how they will determine what is a significant risk of pollution, she added.

“There is no guidance. We will continue to seek clarification,” she said.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.