Don't fall foul of new legislation on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

New legislation which came into force last May, removed 10,000 farmers from Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) – while including 2,500 for the first time - for four years

James Bendle, assistant agricultural adviser at H&H Land and Property
James Bendle, assistant agricultural adviser at H&H Land and Property

New legislation which came into force last May, removed 10,000 farmers from Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) – while including 2,500 for the first time - for four years.

With the closed season end approaching, James Bendle, assistant agricultural adviser at H&H Land and Property, has some advice on dealing with the new regulations.

He said: “NVZs are designated areas of land draining into and contributing to the nitrate pollution in rivers or aquifers across England and Wales, where nitrate levels are deemed excessive by the Environment Agency.

“The good news last May was that for the first time since the adoption of NVZs, the area for England has been reduced from 62% down to 58%. This is as a result of the successful farm management under previous NVZ regulations, reducing nitrate levels at monitoring stations around the country.

“Areas of Northumberland and Cumbria have been removed from previous NVZ areas.”

Under the legislation farmers who claim Single Payment Scheme (SPS) payments must comply with the NVZ regulations or face strict financial discipline in the form of a percentage reduction of their SPS payments for non-compliance.

“Importantly, on May 17, 2013, Defra decided to extend the closed periods where farmers are unable to spread livestock manure by two weeks to January 31,” said James.

“Those already included in NVZ areas prior to May 2013 must now comply with this extension, with those included in May 2013 for the first time, having to comply by autumn 2015.” This may mean an increased need for slurry and manure storage, or additions in infrastructure such as slurry separators to relieve pressure on existing stores.

“The saving grace for those who are new to NVZs this year is that they will not have to comply with the extended closed periods until autumn 2015.

“This will leave farmers new to NVZs with time to get the additional infrastructure in place if needed and to seek advice on how to effectively manage and plan organic nitrate storage and applications.”

When building new slurry stores it is important to note that farmers now have to notify the Environment Agency under the new legislation and should consult on location at the planning stage.

In addition to the extension of the closed periods, the level to which livestock manures can be spread between the end of the closed season and the beginning of March have been reduced from 50m3 per ha to 30m3 per ha (2670 gallon per acre) for any one application, importantly with no repeat spreading for three weeks.

James added: “In conclusion, it is important to take heed of the changes that were announced in May 2013, with much stricter punishments for those who do not abide by the NVZs going forward from both the RPA and the Environment Agency.

“If you are unclear about the changes, it is always best to seek professional advice so as not to come across any pitfalls.

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