17 May 2002


Worried that the extension

of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

(NVZs) will make it even

harder to farm profitably in

the future? Dont panic.

Most of the new

regulations are common

sense, says two ADAS

experts who have looked

at whats likely to be

involved. Wendy Owen


FARMERS should get into the habit of counting trailer loads of manure and slurry as they are spread in preparation for the extension of Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) legislation, advises ADAS soil scientist Gillian Goodlass.

But Dr Goodlass stresses that producers should not be too alarmed at the prospect of still more rules and regulations. And she points out that there should be no confusion between NVZs and Nitrate Sensitive Areas (NSAs).

"In the NSA scheme, producers who joined were asked to make quite drastic changes to the way they farmed and they were compensated for those changes," she says.

Good practice

"Although it attracts no payment and is compulsory, the NVZ scheme is really just an extension of good farming practice. It formalises what should already be happening on farms."

Most of the NVZ rules, including those which prevent the application of organic fertilisers on steeply sloping or frozen ground, are common sense, she says.

"The main point about the NVZ rules is that they set out to limit nitrogen applications to match what is called crop requirement. They aim to prevent leaching where possible.

"For most farms, the crop requirement will usually amount to more than the quantity of available nitrogen from organic fertiliser produced by its livestock. Any shortfall will continue to come from inorganic fertilisers in the usual way."

Although DEFRA has set out the official crop requirement for different situations, there is flexibility within the scheme, she adds.

"As long as you or your consultant can prove that you have a good reason for arriving at a particular decision, you may well be permitted to make some changes."

Dont panic

And anyone who grows oilseed rape need not panic when they read the restrictions on late applications of fertiliser. "It is accepted rape needs autumn nitrogen and there are exceptions to the rules where the crop requirement cannot be met in any other way."

Dr Goodlass also reckons that many farmers will need to improve their general record-keeping, so they can provide individual field audits giving dates of fertiliser applications throughout the year. They should also keep notes on the type of organic waste applied and its nitrogen value, as well as any chemical fertilisers used.

"Anyone who sends manure to a neighbouring farm will also have to work out how much is going off-farm and the date it left. The person who receives it will also have to record full details of how it was used."

Dr Goodlass has carried out research on NVZs at the Bishop Burton College farm near Beverley, East Yorks. The farm is heavily stocked and has two separate systems for slurry from the dairy and pig herds. It also carries 80 horses, which are used by equestrian students.

Much to the relief of farm director Colin Dennis, she concluded the amount of manure and slurry produced on the unit is well below the limit proposed by the new NVZ rules.

Upper limit

The NVZ upper limit for organic waste spread on the farm will be just over 72,000kg nitrogen/ha/year, Dr Goodlass estimates. But despite taking into account manure and slurry from the pigs, cattle, sheep and horses, the college only produces just 58,000kg nitrogen/ha.

However, she reminds producers that when working out the crop nitrogen requirement for their own farms, they should remember to take buildings, woodland or any other non-productive area out of the equation. She also stresses that the yearly field limits for organic manures apply on a rolling annual basis, despite the official NVZ year beginning on Dec 18.

"But if anyone is worried about being able to comply with the forthcoming regulations, they will probably be eligible for a storage grant so they can put up extra facilities," she says.

The majority of producers are not making the most of one of their most valuable assets, adds Brendan OConnor, an ADAS consultant based in Leeds. He estimates that UK livestock manures and slurry have a nutrient value worth about £200m, but huge quantities are being wasted.

Most farmers would deny they waste manure, but many are not sure what waste products contain and they find it hard to predict nitrogen availability," says Mr OConnor.

"However, recent research has given us much more information on this subject and there is no longer any reason to ignore their nutrient value."

Another reason why some farmers fail to take manures into account is linked to poor spreading practices, he says. "I appreciate good equipment is expensive, but more care could be taken when applying manures.

Trailing shoe

"The use of a trailing shoe will allow the grass farmer to apply slurry without reducing silage quality or palatability for grazing. This technique will also cut down on losses into the atmosphere or through leaching."

A lack of knowledge and poor spreading techniques often add up to a loss of confidence in farm manures, says Mr OConnor. To convince farmers of their value, he has carried out a number of complex calculations, one of which has led him to conclude that during a six-month period, one dairy cow will provide 24kg of available nitrogen. This has an approximate value of £6.25, he reckons.

&#8226 Two booklets on how to make better use of livestock manures have been published by DEFRA and are available free of charge. One is aimed at grassland and the other at arable production. Anyone wishing to order a booklet should telephone ADAS Gleadthorpe research centre in Nottingham (01623-844331).

&#8226 To find out about grants for manure and slurry storage, telephone DEFRA (0115-929 1191) and ask for details of the farm waste scheme. &#42

ADAS consultant Brendan OConnor with a meter used to measure nitrogen availability in slurries.

&#8226 No manures allowed…

&#8226 On frozen ground.

&#8226 On snow-covered fields.

&#8226 On steeply sloping fields.

&#8226 Within 10m of a watercourse.

&#8226 Within 50m of a borehole.

Above: Colin Dennis with the 1.5m litre slurry tank.

Left: ADAS soil scientist Dr Gillian Goodlass.

&#8226 Grass

&#8226 No slurry, poultry manure or liquid-digested sewage on sandy or shallow soils between Sept 1 and Nov 1.

&#8226 No bagged nitrogen to any soil between Sept 15 and Feb 1.

&#8226 ARABLE

&#8226 No bagged N between Sept 1 and Feb 1.

&#8226 Without cover crop – no slurry, poultry manure or liquid-digested sludge on sandy or shallow soils between Aug 1 and Nov 1 (with cover crop between Sept 1 and Nov 1).

&#8226 No need to panic.

&#8226 Manure/slurry storage grants available.

&#8226 Better record-keeping needed.

&#8226 Make the most of manures.

Farmers across the UK will need to get used to counting trailer-loads of manure and slurry.