Flood-affected farmers struggle to meet urea spreading deadline

Farmers in England have less than three weeks left to spread any urea that has not been treated with a urease inhibitor, with Defra adamant that the 31 March deadline agreed with the industry will not be extended.

A number of farmers have been in touch with Farmers Weekly, worried that they have not been able to get on their land to spread stocks of untreated urea because the ground is still saturated.

See also: Urea inhibitors to be a ‘requirement’ from 1 April in England

“Much of my farm is still under standing water,” said one grower, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one who applies three doses – two of urea followed by one of ammonium nitrate – who will struggle to get more than two-thirds of the planned crop requirement on before the end of the month without risking surface run-off.

“A month’s extension, or even a fortnight, would be useful for many of us in this situation.”

‘No delay’

But Defra insists there will be no delay to the voluntary scheme, which limits the spreading of untreated urea to a 15 January to 31 March window and will operate as a new Red Tractor standard.

“Following a consultation with the sector, we are pursuing an industry-led approach to reducing ammonia – which is detrimental to our natural environment – from urea fertilisers,” said a spokesman.

“It remains our expectation that new standards will be implemented from 1 April 2024 and there are no plans for a derogation or extension.”

Defra points out that the scheme has already been delayed by two years due to concerns about fertiliser supply and high fertiliser prices, though this market has now stabilised.

‘Calendar farming’ 

NFU Cereals board chairman Matt Culley says he too has been approached by grower members who are struggling to get their untreated urea on the ground before the 31 March deadline.

“That is the problem with trying to farm by calendar dates – the British weather is so variable, we need the flexibility,” he said.

“We’re hoping that we get a dry spell from now to the end of the month, but if it gets intolerable, we’ll have to go back to Defra and ask for an extension.”

If farmers do not manage to spread their untreated urea stocks by the end of March, they will have little option but to hold them over until next year, and go to the market in search of treated product for April.

Currently, treated urea is about £40-£45/t more expensive than untreated urea.

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