Government considers Fertiliser Levy

LEVIES ON fertilisers and animal feed are being considered by government in the light of European Water Framework Directive targets.

The aim is to achieve good ecological status of all EU water by 2015, DEFRA science co-ordinator Peter Costigan told delegates at a seminar at Bishop Burton College in E Yorks.

Three other possible solutions have been put forward, said Dr Costigan.

“Instead of applying a levy, we could ignore the problem, and bring in regulation just before the deadline. Or we could bring legislation in early to allow more time for change.

“The other answer would be to provide a supportive approach, and offer producers expert guidance to reduce pollution from farms.”

 With the industry consultation period closed, a decision is expected in the near future, he added.

“A policy must be implemented by 2008 to reach the target by 2015. It is costing water companies 250m a year to deal with pollution, and there is no doubt farmers are contributing to the problem.

“About 70% of the nitrates in water come from farms, as well as 50% of sediment pollutants, which are caused by soil erosion.”

He suggested several ways producers could cut pollution, though the government is aware of the difficulties involved, he said.

 “In general, producers should not grow arable crops on steeply sloping fields. Try to spread slurry evenly, using modern injectors and band spreaders for application.

“Using calculation programs like ADAS MANNER, and having organic manures tested for nutrient content will also help.

“We recognise that it is not easy to alleviate pollution, and that is why a consultation has been held on the subject. But there has to be a balance between profitability and environmental sustainability.”

East Yorks arable producer, Margaret Wilkinson said the seminar had raised awareness of the need to tackle water pollution.

 “No one wants compaction on their land – it is detrimental to the next crop, but it can be hard to avoid it if the weather is bad.

“Most of the advice relates to practices farmers have already adopted, and I sometimes think there is a failure to fully understand things from our point of view.”