Nitrate Vulnerable Zone regulations set to cost Scottish farmers £23 million

Last-ditch negotiations between Edinburgh and Brussels are taking place at the end of this week in a bid to relax Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) regulations set to cost Scottish farmers £23 million in additional slurry storage facilities.

Speaking at SAC’s Outlook conference in Edinburgh, Scottish cabinet secretary, Richard Lochhead, said he was fully aware of the impact the new nitrate rules would have on farmers, particularly pig farmers in NVZs.

Among the areas being discussed with Brussels this week are a relaxation in the closed period rules and slurry storage capacity requirements.

‘Huge gulf’

On the table is a proposal for 22 weeks for dairy slurry and 26 weeks for other categories.

“There’s a huge gulf between what we can deliver and what farmers want  – that’s the reality,” Mr Lochhead said, adding he was not hopeful final discussions with European Commission officials would bear much fruit.

However, he indicated he was determined to assist the industry and 40% of investment costs to provide additional storage is expected to be covered by grant aid through the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP).

Agreement extension

“In simple terms the SRDP will not be accepted unless we make provisions under the current nitrate actions programme,” said Mr Lochhead.

The SRDP is now expected to open in February 2008 and Mr Lochhead said he was “hugely aware of the difficulties caused by the late opening” saying various steps are being taken to minimise the impact.

Among these is a request to the Commission to consider a one-year extension of the agri-environment agreements expiring this year.

‘Legal obstacles’

“This would benefit around 1300 farmers and crofters if it gets the go-ahead,” he said.

“So far all we get back is legal obstacles but we are working to get round these to do the best for the environment, farmers and crofters.”

The detail of the SRDP is still being thrashed out he added.

‘Making progress’

“The wires between Edinburgh and Brussels are very much hot with information flowing in both directions.

“Officials have been meeting with their counterparts in Europe to pore over the details and much progress has been made.”

Back to SAC Outlook Conference special report