DEFRA’s official fertiliser recommendations must not be allowed to become an inflexible “prescriptive recipe book” according to responses to a consultation on the future of the publication known as RB209.

Farmers Weekly obtained a copy of the report which reviewed information supplied to the two-month consultation that took place last winter.

In the report farmers, advisers and other farm industry officials argued strongly that any revision to RB209 should continue to allow growers the flexibility to take into account local conditions and experience when making decisions on fertiliser rates.

“Farmers and advisers commented that they were already careful with nutrient use decisions because of the fertiliser costs involved, and the implications for crop performance and farm profits,” said lead report author, ADAS researcher Peter Dampney.

Recommendations within RB209 had come under much closer scrutiny since the last revision was made in 2000, he acknowledged.

“This is because it is the preferred source of nutrient recommendations for DEFRA and the Environment Agency with respect to field level compliance with the Nitrate Vulnerable Zone action plan rules, cross-compliance and the single farm payment.”

The fact that RB209 was being applied as statutory maxima for those regulations was a serious concern for many stakeholders, he reported.

“Some were concerned about the possibility of reduced nitrogen rates being set as statutory maxima, and the adverse effect this would have on farm businesses and the competitiveness of UK agriculture.”

The need for technical revisions to RB209 was clearly identified by many organisations, the report added.

Of particular concern were nitrogen recommendations for wheat, potatoes and grassland.

While most of the 79 responses indicated RB209 was a useful document providing a single source of guidance, many called for a future RB209 to be as clear and unambiguous as possible, and for a process to be developed to ensure technical content would be maintained continually up to date.

DEFRA is evaluating the responses to the consultation before deciding upon what action to take.

mike.abram@rbi.co.uk