22 March 2002

NVZ regulations and their impact

From Dec 19, 2002, most or all of the UK is likely to be

designated a Nitrogen Vulnerable Zone (NVZ). We ask

one Essex pig unit already in an NVZ to explain the

impact of the regulations. Hannah Velten reports

DRIVING up to the pig unit on &#42 R Philpot and Sons 4050ha (10,000-acre) estate, you could be forgiven for thinking that NVZ rules would have little impact.

Boyton Hall Farms 415-sow unit at Roxwell, near Chelmsford, is surrounded by 810ha (2000 acres) of reasonably flat, chalky boulder clay arable land, with about 48ha (120 acres) outside of the Chelmer Valley NVZ. There seems to be plenty of land available for manure spreading and without shallow or sandy soils, there is no closed period for application.

In addition the unit, which finishes pigs about 200 pigs a week at 85kg deadweight, is completely straw-based. Time restrictions for spreading are not applicable to farm yard manure.

As a director of &#42 R Philpot and Sons, Robert Willy is closely involved with the pig unit. When NVZs were originally touted about 10 years ago, Mr Willy joined local action groups in challenging the ruling at the EU. Although they lost their appeal, Mr Willy still believes the cause of nitrate pollution is unfairly lumbered on farmers.

"At the time, and still now, there was no scientific evidence that farming was guilty of causing nitrates in water. Polluters should pay and that means establishing whom the polluters are. Others, such as industrial units and sewage works are disposing waste into surface water or causing run-off," he argues.

Despite fighting against NVZs, Mr Willy and an ADAS consultant looked into the impact of the regulations. "The soil type and the use of farm manure meant there were no restrictions on when we could apply manure, but we had to adjust where and how much we spread," he says.

Mr Willy knew the unit used about 160ha (400 acres) worth of straw a year for the then 426-sow herd, but he had to calculate the exact amount of N contained in the manure produced, based on numbers and class of stock. This amounted to 37,630kg a year excreted by stock. The limit of manure application to arable soils is 210kg/ha of N (85kg/acre), so 180ha (440 acres) was needed to spread all manure.

Even with the current herd, over 35,000kg a year is produced, so 167ha (414 acres) must be available to take manure. Analysis of manure showed 1t contains 6kg of N, allowing only three to four 10t muck spreader loads a hectare.

In practical terms, to avoid exceeding NVZ levels this means carting manures to cereal and rape stubbles during summer/autumn, up to half a mile from the pig unit. Mr Willy says this adds to labour, fuel and running costs.

The farm has a weighbridge, allowing students to accurately weigh loads. "This helps with record keeping needed under NVZ regulations. Recording is time consuming and requires considerable planning to accurately monitor what manure goes on fields, how much N is available from previous applications and then balancing with bagged nitrogen to keep up with crop requirement," he says.

But Mr Willy admits the pig unit is lucky. "For those units with little arable land attached, producers will have to either rely on neighbours taking muck/slurry, increase winter storage capacity or reduce stocking rates," he says.

In fact, Boyton Hall Farm will face tighter controls on spreading manures at the end of 2002, compared with newly designated NVZs. First, the non-NVZ land, relied upon to take larger amounts of manure, will lose its status.

But also for those designated since 1998, total manure N application limits will fall to 170kg/ha (68kg/acre) on arable land. "This will mean finding an extra 38ha of land," he adds.

Another change, and big expense related to NVZ rules was the building of a 40m x 20m (130ft x 65ft) concrete pad behind the pig unit to store manure during winter. "Because of the past few wet winters, it was difficult to pile manures in certain fields because of the risk of run-off."

The concrete pad slopes, allowing N-enriched water to be collected and piped to the neighbouring dirty water lagoon. This reservoir is used to irrigate potato ground.

In total, the pad and surrounding walls will cost £25,000-£26,000, of which the unit will have to pay 60%. Once works are approved by the Environment Agency, Mr Willy will forward a grant application for 40% of costs to DEFRA. &#42

NVZ IMPACT

&#8226 Need more land to spread manure.

&#8226 Concrete pad storage.

&#8226 Time-consuming records.