Blanket NVZfor England?
FERTILISER applications are set to be restricted across four-fifths of England in a move which the NFU claims will cost farmers up to £80m a year.
DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett will shortly impose a European Union directive turning 80% of England into a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone, according to the Financial Times on Tues (May 28). The revelation came during an FT interview with environment minister Michael Meacher.
The EU Nitrates Directive will limit the amount of manure, pesticides and fertilisers farmers can use at certain times of the year to avoid polluting water courses. DEFRA had been consulting on whether to extend restrictions to 100% or, in what it described as a less favourable option, to 80% of the country.
Although an official announcement is yet to be made, Mr Meacher told the FT that the government was "not wishing to bash the agricultural community". He added: "We are trying to do it in a manner which is the least oppressive and the most co-operative."
The government has employed environmental consultants ADAS to demonstrate the benefits of better fertiliser management. The company is holding open-days at four commercial mixed farms in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Worcester and Essex. ADAS researcher Paddy Johnson claims most farmers have little to fear from NVZs (see Livestock, page 34).
But the NFU believes that enormous and disproportionate costs will be imposed on farmers by environmental legislation. NFU president Ben Gill estimates that the Nitrates Directive will cost the industry £50-80m a year and disputes the need for such a heavy-handed approach.
The NFU and Country Land and Business Association joined forces to oppose the NVZ plans during the consultation, claiming that the proposals would be a "hammer blow" to the industry. In choosing the 80% figure, ministers appear to have bowed to pressure, despite government claims that farmers in non-NVZ areas will have an unfair advantage over farmers under restrictions.
A DEFRA spokesman described the FT report as "a little bit misleading" and insisted no decision had yet been taken. Responses to the consultation have been carefully considered, he added, and an announcement will be made shortly. Details of exemptions are also expected to be published.
Mr Meachers statement that the directive should be implemented by autumn 2003 referred to the first annual closed periods for organic manure spreading on shallow and sandy soils, the spokesman said. This date will also put the new zones in sync with cycle dates for existing NVZs, avoiding confusion for farmers. *