Agricultural contractors in Wales say they will be forced out of business if they are banned from spreading slurry for nearly four months of the year.

In Pembrokeshire, the region which may be worst affected by the proposal to expand nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ), one contracting business has launched an online petition urging the Welsh government to rethink.

Slurry application accounts for the bulk of Sean and Nicola Savage’s business; if hundreds of farms in Pembrokeshire are drawn into an NVZ, they say they will be forced to lay off staff in the winter.

Sean Savage

Sean Savage

“Ninety percent of our clients farm in the proposed designation area,” said Mr Savage.

See also: Farmers angered by ‘all-Wales’ approach to NVZs

“We are heavily invested in slurry equipment, but those machines are going to be standing idle from October 15 to January 31.

“The only alternative work for us during the closed period would be hedgecutting, but that is already very well covered.”

For the Savages, new NVZ rules could even lead to them closing their business.

They say their situation is indicative of the one many contractors are in. If contractors go out of business or scale back, this would have implications for farmers.

“The workload will be very difficult to manage from 1 February.

“No slurry contractor in the county is going to have enough slurry implements to get the work done for all their clients,’’ Mr Savage insisted.

“Grass grows throughout the year in west Wales. Slurry is being used for the purpose of growing grass, it is not just being thrown on.’’

Responsible approach

He says contractors are responsible and are careful to apply slurry only when the conditions dictate.

“When we had heavy rain earlier this week there was no way that we would have gone out and spread slurry in those conditions. In contrast, we had very dry conditions in October so we were very busy.

Welsh government nitrate vulnerable zone consultation

  • Two possibilities – increase the area of nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ) from 2.4% to 8%, or make all of Wales an NVZ
  • Closing date is 23 December
  • An announcement is likely in early 2017 on the new rules
  • New regulations would be rolled out in 2017

“If the NVZ had been in place, we couldn’t have done that work. The closed period is the main issue for us, we are urging the government for flexibility according to weather conditions.”

So far, about 300 people have signed the online petition.

The Savages are hoping it will make the Welsh government understand the implications, not only for farmers, but for the wider rural economy.

“The government seems hell-bent on bringing in these regulations, but there are other steps they could take like permitting only trailing shoe or dribble bar methods of application for a period of months, or having a no-spread zone within a few metres of watercourses,” said Mrs Savage.

“If the government wants all of our milk and food being hauled in from England, then carry on with this proposal because we will have a situation where dairy farmers in Pembrokeshire are forced to downsize or leave the industry.”