Slurry spreading© Tim Scrivener

Livestock farmers in Northern Ireland who have been struggling with soggy land should be able to spread slurry beyond the normal closing date, the government has confirmed.

Under the terms of the EU’s Nitrates Directive, farmers normally have to respect the “closed period” for spreading slurry from 15 October to 31 January.

But rural affairs minister Michelle McIlveen said in the light of the exceptional weather in recent month farmers could apply for a dispensation “on a case-by-case basis”.

See also: Farmer fined nearly £9,000 for slurry pollution

“I believe that the challenges faced by some farmers over recent months as a result of high rainfall have been exceptional,” she said.

“Therefore where a farmer has reasonable cause to spread after the end of the season, the farmer will be able to spread.

“Such cases must be evidence based, showing the farmer had taken all reasonable steps to manage the situation and was left with no alternative,” Ms McIlveen added.

Wet fields in Northern Ireland

Farmers are urged to take pictures of ground conditions before taking advantage of the relaxed slurry-spreading rules

Caution needed

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has welcomed the announcement, but urged caution when farmers use the “reasonable excuse” clause.

“Farmers must be able to prove they exhausted all other options for emptying tanks and they must have all their nitrates paperwork in order,” said UFU president Barclay Bell.

“Having photos or videos of ground conditions and rainfall data would also be beneficial.”

The UFU has created a template members can use to record the necessary information to help back up their case.

In the wake of on-going fodder shortages, the UFU has also welcomed clarification from the minister that landowners with surplus grass may allow others to graze it, without a threat to direct payments, for up to eight weeks.