NVZ derogation brings some relief for farmers

Farming unions have welcomed an EU decision to grant farmers in Great Britain a derogation from strict nitrogen limits under Nitrate Vulnerable Zones legislation.

Farmers will have to apply individually to the Environment Agency, which monitors compliance with NVZ rules, for permission to exceed the current limit of 170kg/ha of nitrogen from animal manures. Instead, successful aplpications will have to stay within a 250kg N limit.

The decision, which was not widely expected, will come as a significant relief to dairy farmers facing a dilemma of either reducing animal numbers or finding extra land to stay within the law.

About 50% of England and Wales already falls within an NVZ, but this was raised to nearly 70% on 1 January this year with a major extension to the NVZ area. There are four NVZs in Scotland and 31 in Wales.

NFU dairy board chairman Gwyn Jones said he was pleased the EU Nitrates Committee had listened to farmers. “This is especially important for the dairy sector as some 40-50% of commercial dairy farms would have been at or above the original 170kg N limit.”

However, Mr Jones added that the need for individual farms to apply annually for the derogation, coupled with detailed nutrient plans for individual fields, would only add to the paperwork burden on farmers.

“I am pleased that DEFRA has co-operated wholeheartedly with the industry to secure this reduction in the severity of the measures it has imposed, and hope this will lead to a rational appraisal of some other NVZ measures.”

Mr Jones added that had the derogation not been approved, the NVZ rules could have led to “massive destocking” on smaller, more intensive units.

The Welsh Assembly said the decision could benefit 1000 Welsh farmers, Rural Affairs minister Elin Jones said the derogation was of “vital importance” to farm businesses in Wales.

The deroagtion will also apply in Scotland. Rural Affairs minister Richard Lochhead said: “This is welcome news for Scotland’s farmers and the dairy sector in particular and will avoid the additional costs associated with increased storage of manure.”

NVZ derogation – key criteria

  • 80% of agricultural area must be in grass
  • Farmers must apply each year
  • No manures on grassland that is to be autumn cultivated
  • Ploughed grass must be follwoed by an N-hungry crop
  • P fertilisation plan for each field
  • Each farm must have N and P soil anaylsis results

Don’t miss our step-by-step guide to staying within NVZ rules. Go online at www.fwi.co.uk/nvzguidance

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