18 December 1998

Tough new rules tighten checks on applications

By Andrew Blake

FROM tomorrow farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones face new laws restricting their use of manufactured nitrogen fertiliser and organic manures and wastes.

Enforcement by the Environment Agency of the Action Programme to comply with the UKs interpretation of the EC Nitrate Directive (91/676/EEC) begins on Dec 19.

Farm checks are unlikely until April at the earliest. But farmers on 600,000ha (1.48m acres) in the 68 affected areas of England and Wales* should make sure they keep accurate records of cropping, livestock numbers and fertiliser/ manure applications to show to EA inspectors once pre-arranged farm visits begin, advises NVZ manager Robin Chatterjee.

MAFF funding, in theory sufficient for eight full-time inspectors, will be spread to involve 60 or so staff, particularly in the Midlands and East Anglia, says Mr Chatterjee. "On average each farm will be visited at least once every four years."

Farmers could be fined up to £20,000 for breaking the rules, but the fact that he did not have that figure at his fingertips is a measure of the approach being adopted, he says. "In many cases the idea will be to build on existing relationships with our local environmental protection officers. We are making no secret of the fact that we do not want to wield the big stick unless we have to."

Free ADAS visits are available on request to help identify potential problems and provide advice. Too often the economic benefits of organic manures are under-estimated, notes Mr Chatterjee.

Livestock farms are likely to be targeted first, the main requirement being for farmers to show how they determine N applications. "The decision-making process needs to be as transparent as possible. Farm waste management plans or, better still, more comprehensive nutrient management plans will go a long way towards this."

Adherence to the rules restricting annual usage clearly cannot be assessed until after 12 months. In future, rates of organic manures could be checked by dividing standard amounts excreted by a farms livestock by the area treated, he notes.

"Most people already keep a reasonable record of their applications of manufactured nitrogen fertiliser," says Paddy Johnson of ADAS Kirton. "But records of organic manures are generally not kept to the standard required by the Action Programme."

The date and rate of application to each field must be recorded. Farmers should note that the total organic nitrogen applied to each field must not exceed 250kg/ha (200 units/acre) a year, he adds.

That equals about 42t/ha (17t/acre) of strawy cattle manure, 50cu m/ha (4500gal/acre) of 6% dry matter pig slurry or 8.5t/ha (3.5t/acre) of broiler litter, he explains. There are also limits to the total amounts of organic nitrogen which can be applied and/or deposited by livestock onto NVZ land. So records must be kept of animal (and bird) numbers on the farm and any manure exported from it. "It would also be sensible to keep records of any organic manures imported on to the farm."

When planning fertiliser dressings, the N contribution of organic manures, crop residues and the soil must be taken into account in NVZs, adds Mr Johnson. Other rules, notably imposing closed periods for field applications, are outlined in the MAFF booklet Guidelines for Farmers in NVZs, which all NVZ farmers should have received last summer. It includes a sample field record sheet.

A supplementary booklet, Manure Planning in NVZs, and extra field record sheets can be obtained from local MAFF Regional Service Centres. The centres can also check whether a farm is in an NVZ and arrange a free ADAS visit.

Soil scientist George Wadsworth, of Fieldfare Associates, is visiting lecturer at Reading University where about half the universitys 100ha (250 acre) diary/arable farm at Sonning is in an NVZ. "The total N allowances are fairly liberal," he says.

So far he has had few requests for advice from NVZ farmers. "They are all waiting to see what happens. I expect the demand will come when environmental officers start to go round."

*Similar rules apply to Scotlands sole NVZ at Balmalcolm, Fife, where enforcement is by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. &#42

NVZRULES

&#8226 Bite Dec 19.

&#8226 Farm visits from April.

&#8226 Record keeping vital.

&#8226 Free ADAS help.

MAIN RESTRICTIONS

&#8226 No manufactured N fertiliser applications from Sept 1 to Feb 1 (arable) and Sept 15 to Feb 1 (grassland), except as agronomically justified on specific crops.

&#8226 On shallow or sandy soils: No high-N organic manure applications (slurry, poultry manure, liquid sewage sludge) from Aug 1 to Nov 1 (arable) and Sep 1 to Nov 1 (grassland).

&#8226 Adequate manure/slurry storage for closed periods.

&#8226 Annual N use limits Manufactured fertiliser:

Must not exceed crop need, taking into account reserves.

Organic manures (inc grazing droppings – whole farm):

250kg/ha (200 units/acre) on grassland.

210kg/ha (168 units/acre) on arable – falls to 170kg/ha

(136 units/acre) in 2002.