NVZ hope for highly stocked holdings

A glimmer of hope when it comes to NVZ regulations could be possible for holdings with high stocking number, according to Natural England.

They reckon many intensive livestock farmers will be able to operate at higher stocking densities without breaching NVZ rules next year, by applying to the Environment Agency for a derogation.

The derogation anticipated to pass through parliament this month or next, allows eligible land to receive a higher annual manure load from grazing livestock (250kgN/ha) compared to the normal 170kgN/ha, albeit subject to additional requirements, says cross-compliance adviser Simon Draper.

“Arguably, intensive grassland can better use higher nitrogen levels and presents a relatively low leaching risk but additional control measures should be followed including nutrient planning, soil phosphate monitoring along with restrictions to rotation and cropping. Farmers will also need to meet clear eligibility criteria,” he says.

In contrast to 2009, farmers will need to maintain 80% of their rotation as grassland (containing less than 50% clover) as of next year to qualify for the derogation.

Usefully however, crops that are under-sown with grass can be used to make up the 80%.

Mr Draper points to spring barley as the obvious option if a farmer has concerns about meeting the higher grassland area while advising dairy farmers against under-sowing maize.

“The chances are that the grass won’t take and leave you short on grass acreage while a late harvest would result in rutted compacted fields, far from ideal for a productive long-term ley.”

Mr Draper points out that other restrictions specified by the derogation represent good practice with soil P sampling required every four years, and production of fertiliser or nutrient management plans, all of which help target nutrient effectively and so minimise expenditure on bagged fertiliser.

“The plan should show how much N and P is needed by the crop, how much is applied as bagged fertiliser or manure and when it needs to be,” says Mr Draper, “and will need to be available for inspection by the EA by 30 April on an annual basis”.

Applications for the derogation should be made via DEFRA’s Whole Farm Approach website (www.wholefarm.defra.gov.uk) which will notify applicant instantly if the derogation is granted. Telephone applications are also accepted.