Farming Minister Victoria Prentis has promised that Defra will work with the Environment Agency (EA) to ‘urgently’ provide farmers with the clarity on the Farming Rules for Water (FRfW) they need to plan for the year ahead.
In a letter to Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, Mrs Prentis said she agreed with his ‘concerns about the confusion’ the farming sector has reported on the meaning of the FRfW, specifically Rule 1’.
She emphasised the urgency with which she, Defra and the EA were working on further guidance to help farmers and land managers reduce pollution while making best use of organic matter and provide that clarity.
Mrs Prentis said the guidance will reflect the need for ‘a holistic risk-based approach, providing greater clarity on what farming practices are and are not acceptable’. This will include recognition of the importance of promoting soil health and the risk of causing ‘pollution swapping that has no net environmental benefit’, she said.
The Minister also noted Mr Parish’s ‘wider concerns about soil health and confirmed that Defra is ‘continuing to review how our regulatory approaches align with the new schemes we are delivering, such as the Sustainable Farm Incentive, to deliver a coherent and complementary package of policies to improve soil health at the same time as reducing pollution’. Defra’s Soil Health Action Plan for England will deliver a coherent plan for soil health, she added.
Mr Parish wrote to Mrs Prentis, following an EFRA hearing in January – attended by senior EA officials, the Tenant Farmers Association and experts in soil and water issues – to discuss concerns over FRfW, during which Defra and the EA committed to publishing new guidance by early spring.
“Farmers have been rightly concerned at mixed messages they have received from the EA about soil husbandry – and when and how they can spread organic fertiliser,” Mr Parish said.
The EFRA chair welcomed the commitment shown by all parties to finding a solution and the ‘sense of urgency’ that Mrs Prentis said would now be applied to this problem.
“The Government now need to deliver on this promise and promptly produce the guidance, which meets the needs of farmers and the environment and gives farmers the certainty they need to be able to incorporate good organic matter into the soil,” he said.