By Mike Abram

Make sure your fertiliser records are up to date, agronomists are warning growers, as Environment Agency Nitrate Vulnerable Zone farm inspections increase.

“NVZ inspections are being seriously ramped up by the EA,” says Shropshire-based AICC agronomist Bryce Rham. “In the last month four of my customers have had inspections, whereas in the previous two years there hadn”t been any.”

Both Strutt & Parker agronomist Mark Hall and Lincs-based independent agronomist Bridget Carroll agree. “There”s definitely been more NVZ inspections on my clients” farms in the past eight weeks,” says Ms Carroll.

But an EA spokesman stresses there hasn”t been any overall increase in NVZ inspections. “Only 5% of farms in NVZ regions are inspected in England.” About 4300 farms will be inspected in England and Wales.

However, inspections have been targeted to coincide with less busy periods for farmers, she says. “That means more in the winter period, which is hopefully more convenient for farmers.”

Agronomists suggest NVZ inspections are not onerous, provided growers have their records in order and to hand.

“It is fairly straightforward, although obviously it is a concern, as it is another check. You don”t want to make any silly mistakes,” says Ms Carroll.

Make sure you are aware whether your farm, or even any part of your farm, is in a nitrate vulnerable zone, and what the rules and requirements are, warns Mr Rham.

The key rules are to limit inorganic nitrogen to crop requirements, not to exceed limits on total organic manure, or to apply it on sandy or shallow soils in closed periods.

Growers must also make sure they have adequate farm records, including cropping and the use of organic manures and nitrogen fertilisers, says Mr Rham. “Inspectors are thrilled to bits when growers have complete records. Being in a crop assurance scheme really helps.”

But be prepared to show justification when the total amount of nitrogen applied is above DEFRA”s fertiliser recommendations in RB209, warns Mr Hall. “We have had to show evidence of some form of research of why we are using high levels of nitrogen, which has satisfied them.”

The EA is also asking to see where sprayers are filled and washed out, and oil storage, says Mr Hall.

Integrating farm visits for NVZs, groundwater and extraction regulations is being trialled, confirms the EA spokesman. “We”re trying to be more efficient.”

General EA activity on farm has also increased, says Hampshire Arable Systems” Alan Bide. “That could be to pick up more farm experience as they are also the inspectorate for cross-compliance. At any soil management workshops there is always a big attendance from EA staff.”

mike.abram@rbi.co.uk

[Summary] Key NVZ rules Limit inorganic nitrogen to crop requirements Limit organic manure to 210kg/ha averaged over farm area not in grass On sandy/shallow soils do not apply slurry, poultry manures between Sept 1-Nov 1 on autumn sown crops, or between Aug 1-Nov 1 without autumn sown crops Keep adequate farm records For full NVZ details visit www.defra.gov.uk/environment/water/quality/nitrate/default.htm ENDS (499 WORDS)