New legislation on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones that came into force on 1 January will affect the external stocking limit permitted for free range systems, according to a consultant.

Jill Scrivener of Reading Agricultural Consultants explained that producers in existing NVZs face the rules from 1 January 2009 while those in new NVZs have another year to comply. The changes will effectivly see the porportion of the UK in an NVZ rise from 55% to 68% of land.

“I believe the free-range poultry sector is going to be badly affected by the new legislation, by imposing stocking limits for free range units. This is due to a reduction in the annual Livestock Manure Nitrogen Farm limit, from the current 250kg total organic nitrogen/ha a year to 170kg.

Once allowances have been made for nitrogen losses through housing or storage and for reduced occupancy levels, the whole farm limit effectively reduces the stocking rate for free-range hens to 320 birds/ha (130/acre), based on the assumption that all birds range all of the time. For broilers it’s 440/ha (178/acre) and 125/ha (51/acre) for stags.

“While DEFRA’s supporting documentation is not specific, it is my understanding that it should be assumed that 80% of manure is deposited within the buildings with the remaining 20% deposited directly to land. This implies an overall maximum stocking density of 1600 hens/ha, well below the EU limit of 2500 hens/ha and the recently increased Lion Code limit of 2000 birds/ha.”

In addition to reduced stocking levels, compliance with legislation means that all manure from buildings will need to be spread on additional land, keeping manure applications below the 170kg nitrogen/ha per annum limit. If insufficient land is available on-farm, surplus manure can be exported to other land.

She concluded by advising: “For those producers looking to expand, I recommend being prepared and ensuring that planning applications are well supported with documentation demonstrating a comprehensive manure management programme with specific contracts relating to the land application of manure. Consultants acting on behalf of the local planning authorities will be looking in depth at proposed stocking rates and land availability.”

  • Editor’s note: Poultry World understands that the impact rests on the assumed proportion of poultry droppings deposited outside and this is still being clarified. Some assume 10% which would mean no effect on stocking density.

For more information, call the NVZ helpline (0845 345 1302) (Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm) or visit www.crosscompliance.org.uk/cms/nvz

To help producers, DEFRA has put together an advice package.