AD plant with rye growing in foreground© Tim Scrivener

Plans to significantly hike the fees charged by the Environment Agency (EA) for a wide range of compliance permits could see farmers’ bills increase by thousands of pounds from April 2018.

Farm leaders are urging the EA to delay the introduction of changes to its charging regimes, with the NFU claiming the “huge increases” will have a detrimental effect on many farm businesses.

The changes will affect anyone spreading waste sheep dip and pesticide washing on land (what used to be known as groundwater authorisations), farms with AD plants, as well as intensive pig and poultry units.

See also: Farm groups call for a rethink on pig permit hikes

The EA has, for example, proposed that the application charge for anyone seeking a permit for the spreading of waste sheep dip should rise from a baseline of £390 or £600, dependent on the volume disposed, to more than £2,700.

In addition, it suggests the annual fee charged for the permit should rise from £153 to £273, or £917 if higher volumes are to be disposed.

Pig and poultry units

Similarly, the EA is proposing the initial charge for a permit for an intensive pig and poultry unit should more than double from £3,750 to £8,069.

Additional fees would then be levied for applications in a sensitive location or for ammonia levels modelling – which would also significantly increase –  taking the total application costs to £9,000-£10,000, according to farm leaders.

On-farm AD

Farmers applying for a new permit for activities related to an AD plant which runs off agricultural residues and crop feedstocks are also facing a 62% increase in the amount charged, with the standard fee rising from £1,630 to £2,641.

Additional fees would then be incurred for noise, pest management and odour plans, taking the total cost of applying for a new permit for a plant with a capacity of less than 100t/day from an estimated £8,000 to more than £16.000.

The EA is also suggesting a 2.4-fold increase in the annual fee for small on-farm AD plants – from £1,580 to £3,809.

‘Unjustified’

The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (Abda) said the proposed charges were unjustified and should be delayed, or at the very least, phased in.

Charlotte Morton, Abda chief executive, said: “AD operators are already under increased financial pressure and even small cost increases will result in greater strain and could have a detrimental impact.

“Should the proposals lead to reduced enthusiasm in investing in the industry or limit operators’ ability to invest in their operations, this could be detrimental to the environment and to AD’s ability to meet vital policy goals.”

The NFU pointed out the EA’s own analysis showed the average time spent on a permit application for the spreading of sheep dip (for a volume of less than 5cu m) was 3.6 hours, so it was difficult to justify an application fee of £2,700.

Mark Pope, NFU environment forum chairman, said the EA needed to show that the costs were fair, proportionate and competitive.

“We want farming to continue to improve its environmental performance, but these cost increases could be seen as a disincentive to improve management practices or limit the availability of management options in the future.

“The proposals could also put up barriers to new permit applicants.

“That’s why we want to see the Environment Agency delay the implementation until at least April 2019 to give us time to have further discussions with the EA to find ways of keeping our costs down.”

The Environment Agency has said it needs to move towards full cost recovery for the services it offers, so it can reduce its reliance on taxpayer funds.