Farming leaders have welcomed government plans to allow farmers struggling in the wet weather to spread slurry outside the normal closed period.
The Environment Agency (EA) is to allow spreading to take place until 15 October for tillage land and 31 October for grassland.
It allows the spreading of slurry as a last resort for farms during the first two weeks of the normal closed periods.
Farmers in England and Wales are normally banned from using slurry and manure in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) during closed periods because of a greater risk of causing nitrate pollution to watercourses and groundwater.
The Environment Agency’s guidance for farmers with livestock stipulates that contingency plans must be in place to deal with excess slurry during this period.
The NFU is urging its members to use all other alternatives before spreading, as this will be taken into account by the Environment Agency during inspections to decide if spreading was appropriate. Fines and other sanctions could be issued should farmers not comply with the guidance.
NFU head of policy services Andrew Clark said: “The announcement provides a pragmatic way forward that will allow farmers in greatest need and who have followed good practice, to spread slurry and manures before winter.
“We are pleased that DEFRA expects the Environment Agency to apply the NVZ rules flexibly and with discretion following what has been an exceptional summer’s weather.
“We are pleased that DEFRA expects the Environment Agency to apply the NVZ rules flexibly and with discretion following what has been an exceptional summer’s weather.”
“The statement makes clear that farmers cannot spread slurry without risk of breaching cross-compliance rules, but rather that evidence of good practice and having in place the statutory minimum of storage constraint should be taken into account by EA at inspection.”
Harry Cotterell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said: “The extension for applying manure and slurry to fields with heavier soil will help farmers manage their applications without having to rush to complete the work under current extreme weather conditions.
“However, it is important they follow the DEFRA and EA guidance during this two-week period otherwise they could still be in breach of EA regulations.”