Get to grips with new NVZ rules

The Environment Agency is holding a series of events to introduce farmers to the new Nitrate Vulnerable Zone regulations – rules that could mean significant investment.

Farmers in England and Wales have a 70% chance of finding all or part of their farm in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone, under the updated regulations which came into force on New Year’s Day.

The new rules mean that most farmers will have to adapt their businesses to store animal manures for a considerable period of time and in conditions that comply with the new legislation. In many cases, this will mean significant investment.

There are strict limits on the amount of nitrogen from livestock manure that farmers can store and spread, while there are similar restrictions on manufactured fertilisers and closed seasons when they must not be applied.

If all this sounds like it means more paperwork, that’s because it will. Farmers will need to request a DEFRA information pack, which contains nine separate booklets. The information in these booklets is key to managing the use of nitrogen to stay within the law. Farmers can order their copy from the helpline number below.

What has changed?

The extended NVZ areas increase from 55% of England and Wales to cover nearly 70% of the country.

Agronomist Simon Draper, who is one of the experts helping to brief farmers on behalf of the EA, says it is imperative that farmers check whether all or part of their farm falls into an NVZ. “You need to check the location of boreholes and other surface-water extraction locations, as well as rivers and other watercourses. It’s also important to remember that the new regulations are based on predictions that have been made for the future. You may be able to establish that nitrate run-off is below the 50mg/litre threshold now, but that may not be enough to challenge the regulations.”

But there are significant benefits to farmers who respond positively. “This is all about improving the efficiency of nitrogen use. The more efficiently nitrogen is used, the more gets to the crop and isn’t wasted.”

Livestock manure N farm limit

Farmers must not now exceed a total of 170kg/ha of total nitrogen produced by livestock in each calendar year. This means farmers must work out the level of nitrogen in farm manures or slurries depending on the animal species, the numbers of animals and the time they spend on the holding.

Planning nitrogen use

Farmers must also plan the spreading of nitrogen from animal manures and manufactured fertilisers to each crop in each field and stay within the new legal limits. This means farmers will have to calculate the level of available nitrogen already in the soil, the N requirement of the crop, the available N from planned spreading of livestock manures, and calculate the remaining level of manufactured nitrogen they can apply. Accurate record-keeping is also a requirement.

The NMAX calculation

For each crop, farmers must ensure their application of crop-available nitrogen from livestock manure and manufactured fertiliser does not exceed the maximum legal application rate (NMAX) for the crop type. Farmers will also have to demonstrate they have done this and record the amount of nitrogen actually spread at each application.

Closed spreading periods

Farmers must also observe closed periods on the spreading of some manures on grassland and tillage land. Closed periods also apply for manufactured nitrogen fertiliser. There are also rules on storage and application techniques.

What help is available to farmers?
• Check whether all or part of your farm falls into an NVZ. The government’s MAGIC website allows you to check. Go to www.magic.gov.uk, select “Choose my own topic” and tick NVZ options. This is also the website used by cross-compliance and NVZ inspectors. Farmers in Scotland can check at http://tiny.cc/scotlandnvz
• The Environment Agency is holding a series of events to explain to farmers how they can prepare to meet the new rules. There are five remaining dates:
19 January Chilford Hall conference centre, Linton, Cambridgeshire
21 January Three Counties Hotel, Hereford
22 January Staffordshire Showground, Stafford
26 January Fynn Valley Golf Club, Witnesham, Ipswich
28 January Writtle College, Chelmsford, Essex 
• There is also a series of workshops where farmers can take details of their farming enterprise along and an EA expert will go through the nitrate calculations step by step. Places are being filled quickly and the EA is scheduling a further programme of workshops in the coming weeks. 
• Order your guidance booklets and get free advice from the DEFRA helpline on 0845 345 1302

Key dates
1 January 2009 New NVZ rules came into force in England, Wales and Scotland
31 January Deadline for farmers in England to appeal against their farm falling into an NVZ
31 March Deadline for farmers in Wales to appeal
30 April Farmers already in an NVZ need to have calculated their storage requirement
1 January 2010 Legislation comes into effect for farmers in new NVZs