18 January 2002

NVZs – common sense

Fertilisers, essential plant nutrients, are increasingly under scrutiny, new Nitrate

Vulnerable Zone proposals being the latest manifestation. This special focus aims to help

steer growers towards the most cost-effective, environmentally friendly strategies. Edited

by Andrew Blake who starts off with a look at the NVZ implications

DESIGNATING much or all of the country as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone to meet EC rules should not present insurmountable problems for most arable farms, says ADAS.

The new proposed NVZs, outlined in DEFRAs consultation paper (News, Jan 4), are based on the Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Water.

"The important thing to recognise is that the underlying concept of NVZs, now and in the future, is to encourage farmers to use good practices, and adoption of good practices generally helps farm profits," says Boxworth-based senior scientist Paddy Johnson.

"It is a classic win/win case of what is good for the environment is good for the business bottom line."

Under NVZs farmers are required to:

&#8226 Limit and control N fertiliser use to crop requirement only.

&#8226 Limit and control spreading of organic manure.

&#8226 Have enough slurry storage to comply with closed periods for spreading manure.

&#8226 Keep farm records.

"These are all common sense measures and sit comfortably with economic efficiency as well as environmental protection," says Mr Johnson.

DEFRA estimates the annual costs (excluding record-keeping) to English farms of complying with the proposed NVZs will be £10-£12m depending on which option is eventually chosen.

Under the proposals NVZ status could apply to the whole country, offering a level playing field for market competition, it says. Alternatively about four-fifths of the area could be so designated under the targeted approach expected to be adopted in Scotland and Wales.

Whichever option is eventually imposed, to fully meet the EC 1991 Nitrates Directive and avoid fines of £50m a year, extra costs are bound to be incurred. But it is heartening to note that the DEFRA paper says the government intends to extend the Farm Waste Grant Scheme available in existing NVZs to the new areas, says Mr Johnson.

"The grants will help, but they are mostly only 40%, and all affected farmers will still have to find the remainder."

Farms likely to face the biggest outlays are intensive livestock units with limited land on which to apply manures, he says. "But even that land issue is becoming less of a problem as more and more farmers recognise the nutrient and soil conditioning values of slurry and solid manures and trade in them between neighbours increases."

NVZ proposals

&#8226 No insurmountable problems.

&#8226 Common sense measures.

&#8226 Win/win position for many farmers.

&#8226 Extra costs inevitable on some livestock farms.

&#8226 No insurmountable problems.

&#8226 Common sense measures.

&#8226 Win/win position for many farmers.

&#8226 Extra costs inevitable on some livestock farms.

Livestock manures and their fertiliser value are likely to get much more attention under the latest NVZ proposals.