The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) has come out fighting against the introduction of proposed changes to Northern Ireland’s Nitrates Action Plan, accusing officials of trying to sneak in unworkable and costly measures in the absence of government ministers.
The Department for Agriculture, the Environmental and Rural Affairs (Daera) published a consultation paper last month that makes a series of recommendations for 2019 to 2022.
It proposes tightening slurry management controls and insisting on the phased introduction of covers for all slurry stores.
The consultation suggests the closed period for spreading slurry should remain unchanged at 15 October to 31 January, but the maximum application rate of slurry should be reduced from 50cu m/ha to 30cu m/ha when applying it in either February or October.
In its response to the consultation, the UFU said it opposed the majority of the proposed changes with a number being “nonsensical and counterproductive”.
Ivor Ferguson, UFU president, warned that if implemented, the plans would have a detrimental effect on farm businesses and the agri-food industry.
“The suggestion to cover new outdoor slurry stores from 1 January 2020 and existing stores by 2022 is just one example of the totally unworkable proposals coming from Daera,” he said.
“Ultimately, it will all add additional cost, paperwork and frustration to farm family businesses. This is not acceptable.”
Other proposals strongly opposed by the union include the suggestion that livestock drinking points need to be situated a minimum of 10m from a waterway and the idea that it should be compulsory for contractors and farms over a certain size to apply slurry using low-emission equipment only.
The union argues that the latter suggestion seems to be more about reducing ammonia emissions than about addressing nitrate problems, and brings with it many practical problems.
“Work is already under way to create an Ammonia Action Plan. These measures are better discussed and consulted on as part of that process,” it said.
The union said it had consistently taken the position that farming by calendar dates did not work and it was time for Daera to revisit the current closed period.
“The 2018-19 winter has been a classic example where there has been grass growth due to milder temperatures and rainfall has been lower than average, resulting in minimal risk to the waterways.
“More flexibility is needed and a move towards spreading when soil and weather conditions are appropriate regardless of the date.”