A last-ditch appeal has been launched to spare Welsh farmers the burden of anti-pollution curbs similar to those in force in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs).
NFU Cymru says new water management rules proposed for farmland in Wales are targeting an industry already at “crisis point”.
Welsh rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths had been considering a voluntary approach to protecting watercourses but following several pollution incidents she is now suggesting a tougher approach.
Farmers are fearful that a “copy and paste” of European NVZ regulations is on the cards at a pan-Wales level.
NFU Cymru has now gathered substantial evidence on the damaging fallout from the planned curbs, scheduled to be introduced on 1 January 2020.
Regulatory controls would not only affect the financial wellbeing of farm businesses but the mental health of farmers too, it suggested, “testing the Welsh farming industry beyond its limits”.
The union has submitted 100 pages of evidence to the minister, setting out why it reckons the whole-territory NVZ approach is unjustified and disproportionate.
NFU Cymru president John Davies said: “It is highly ironic that Welsh government’s current approach is neither risk-based nor targeted despite evidence which shows beyond doubt that the issue Welsh government states it is seeking to address – levels of agricultural pollution – is highly variable across Wales with many catchments incurring zero incidents of pollution in the last decade.”
But the government has hit back, insisting that the proposed measures “replicate basic good practice measures, focused on nutrient management”.
It said many farmers across Wales were already implementing these measures routinely.
The new rules would allow “firm and consistent enforcement action” to be taken where necessary.
“Agricultural pollution affects water quality across Wales and action is needed to tackle the damage being done to the environment, the reputation of the farming industry and to our rural communities,” a spokesman said.
NFU Cymru is also concerned at what it suggests is a lack of openness and transparency by the government on this issue in recent months.
Mr Davies said: “If Welsh government wishes to pursue a ‘cut and paste’ of the NVZ Action Programme which is an unwieldy and inflexible EU regulation, then it needs, at the very least, to be honest with farmers and provide the resources required to enable each and every farmer in Wales to reach compliance.”
Heavy rain impact
NVZs already exist in Wales, and weeks of heavy rain have caused a major headache for farmers who were unable to spread slurries and manures ahead of the closed period, which came into force on 15 October.
The government had been urged to allow farmers some leeway on the spreading dates.
The government responded by saying it was working with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to provide advice to farmers in NVZs facing difficulties due to storage issues.
“Any farmer in an NVZ with a store at risk of overflowing is strongly advised to contact NRW on 0300 065 3000 for advice,” the spokesman said.
“NRW will consider the measures which should be taken according to the individual circumstances of each farm.”