The Environment Agency (EA) has promised that its enforcement of the Farming Rules for Water (FRFW) will be ‘proportionate and fair’ in response to a call for urgent clarity from MPs.
EA chief executive Sir James Bevan insisted the agency had provided clear guidance on its interpretation of the rules, in response to a letter from Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.
In his letter to the agency in late-October, prompted by a group of stakeholders, including the NPA, Mr Parish said farmers were concerned that the EA’s current interpretation of this regulation would prevent farmers from spreading organic manure in the autumn, to meet the need of the spring crop.
The NPA and other farming groups have raised concerns that farmers who want to apply organic fertiliser in the autumn, for a spring crop, are required to inform the agency that they have broken the law. Farmers were understandably reluctant to say that they had broken rules because a responsible application of organic manure in autumn was a well-established part of good soil management, Mr Parish said.
He asked the Agency to urgently revisit its approach to ensure it does not prevent the responsible application of organic manure in autumn and called for a clear, updated interpretation of the rules.
In his response, which you can read in full here, Sir James said the FRFW were designed to tackle diffuse pollution of watercourses from agriculture. He said the EA had provided clear guidance on complying with the regulation.
He insisted there was nothing in the agency’s interpretation of the Farming Rules for Water (FRfW) that stops autumn application of organic fertilisers to improve soil organic matter.
“Improving organic matter in soils can be achieved by spreading and incorporating organic fertilisers that add organic matter but do not contain nutrients that are not needed: green composts are a good example,” he said, adding that the EA’s interpretation of FFRQ follows what is widely deemed to be good agricultural practice.
Addressing industry concerns over the EA’s Regulatory Position Statement, RPS252, which explains how the agency intends to enforce the rules, Sir James said the RPS was designed to help farmers this autumn.
They make it clear, he said, that if farmers follow its conditions, the EA will not normally take enforcement action against them ‘where they apply manure to agricultural land that may exceed the needs of the soil and crop on that land if there are no feasible alternative options and provided this does not cause a risk of pollution’.
“We have asked the farmers to contact us if they want to use the RPS in order to provide details of what is being spread where, or if they believe they cannot operate within the RPS and need more assistance,” Sir James said.
“This is designed to help us help farmers and manage the risks of pollution. When the government introduced the Farming Rules for Water, it made clear that while all farmers must follow them, the EA would provide advice on how to comply and that the enforcement of the rules would be proportionate and fair, with the emphasis on working with farmers to achieve compliance.
“That is the approach that the EA has been following since 2018. We will continue to follow it.”