18 January 2002

NVZs extension means fertiliser rethink needed

By Richard Allison

EXTENDING nitrogen vulnerable zones to cover most of the UK will force many producers to reassess slurry and fertiliser management from the end of this year.

If the proposals under consultation are accepted, DEFRA says there will be a dramatic expansion of NVZs when they are implemented from Dec 19.

Although the new measures are needed to comply with EU nitrate levels in water, NFU policy adviser Andrew Richards questions whether the extent of the proposal is justified.

"There is no scientific evidence that these reduced nitrate levels are beneficial to human health and the environment."

Several technical issues must also be tackled before implementation, says Harper Adams University College, Shropshire, researcher Paul Lewis. "One is providing producers with information on the practical implications. Only a few units, mainly in the east and midlands, are already within NVZs and are familiar with the rules."

The university college farm has been operating within an NVZ for several years, says its manager Scott Kirby. "Limits on slurry application rates and timing made it necessary to expand slurry storage capacity for the pig and poultry units.

"We are fortunate to be surrounded by several neighbouring arable units where surplus slurry can be applied. But farms in intensive livestock areas may have to transport surplus slurry and manure over greater distances."

Where insufficient land is available locally for slurry application, producers will have to cut stocking rates, says midlands pig producer John Evans who farms in the North Lincs NVZ. "This will reduce efficiency and put some out of business, particularly standalone units in pig dense areas, such as Yorkshire."

Operating within these regulations also creates a considerable amount of paperwork, says Mr Kirby. "Do not underestimate the amount of record keeping for cropping, stocking and fertiliser and slurry applications."

Mr Kirby believes the new proposals may benefit units with ageing slurry handling facilities. They will have access to 40% grant aid when upgrading fixed equipment, but this does not include tankers or irrigators.

Similarly, slurry store covers are not currently included in the grant aid, says Mr Richards. "The NFU would like to see financial support extended to slurry store covers, as they prevent rain entering the store and increasing slurry volume."

The Integrated Pollution Prevention Control rules meant that a new slurry store on Mr Evans unit had to be covered. "This made it even more expensive to comply with the restrictions."

Strutt & Parkers Andrew Smith highlights that many units face having to invest heavily in manure storage facilities when they need to be investing in buildings or parlours. "It is also a time when they have little money to invest."

Another problem that needs to be resolved is an easy and cost-effective method for applying manure to growing crops in spring, says Mr Kirby. "Banning applications during autumn and winter mean that slurry may not be applied prior to sowing winter crops. This reduces the land area available for spring slurry and manure applications."

Concerns with extending the zones on outdoor pig units were raised at a recent National Pig Association meeting, says NPA chairman, Richard Lonthorp.

"Outdoor producers on rented land question whether the calculation of the relevant stocking density will be based on the whole farm, not just the rented area with pigs."

This will have implications on the landlord in managing his whole farm nitrogen quota, particularly when growing crops with a high nitrogen requirement, says Mr Longthorp.

Consultation papers have been posted to all producers and closing date for responses is Feb 28. &#42

&#8226 More information needed.

&#8226 Cost of increased storage.

&#8226 Outdoor pig concerns.