Slurry being spread on a dairy farm© Tim Scrivener

An alternative system to the planned nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ) expansion in Wales is being proposed by NFU Cymru in an attempt to achieve a better outcome for farmers.

Before the end of this year, the Welsh government is expected to announce either a rise in the percentage of NVZs in Wales from 2.4% to 8%, or an all-territory approach covering the whole of Wales.

See also: 13 tips to avoid poisonous gas when mixing slurry

But NFU Cymru is urging the government to consider an alternative, which it says has the potential to achieve a significantly greater reduction in nitrate pollution than NVZ regulations.

Off-set scheme

The proposed scheme, unveiled at the Welsh Dairy Show at Carmarthen on Tuesday (24 October), builds on an existing off-set scheme operated by First Milk suppliers in Pembrokeshire.

Farmers supplying the Haverfordwest creamery adopted nutrient efficiency and improved management practices in return for expansion at the plant.

One of those farmers, Mike Smith, said it had enabled him to reduce nitrate losses by about 25% – or 10kg/ha.

“It is a proven way to provide positive environmental outcomes,” said Mr Smith, who runs a herd of 350 autumn-calving cows at Pelcomb Farm, near Haverfordwest.

Mike Smith

Mike Smith has reduced nitrate losses by about 25%

Spikes

Mr Smith said spikes in nitrate levels recorded either side of the closed period for nutrient application is evidence NVZs are not working.

The proposed scheme would involve farmers earning points for actions such as applying manure only to low-risk areas, calibrating fertiliser spreaders and fencing off rivers and streams from livestock.

The points would contribute to a farm’s nitrate offset – the balance between inputs and nitrate reductions achieved through improvements.

Other measures include early autumn crop harvesting and growing more clover.

Flags

A yellow flag would be awarded to farmers who commit to the scheme, a green when they see a 15% reduction in nitrate offset and the blue flag when a 25% reduction is achieved.

There would also be an accreditation programme for contractors who spread slurry.

NFU Cymru has described the scheme as a “workable alternative” which would deliver farmer-led solutions to nitrate pollution.

The union’s president, Stephen James, said environment and rural affairs secretary, Lesley Griffiths, had been invited to see the approach in action on farms in Pembrokeshire before making her decision on the way ahead.