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Farmers urged to act now

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Farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) across the South West are being urged to act now to ensure that they have sufficient slurry storage to comply with the NVZ regulations which will be enforced from 1 January 2012.

Livestock farmers within a NVZ will be required to have five months storage and pigs require six months storage. Failure to comply with the regulations could put their single farm payment at risk, as well as increasing the risk of environmental pollution.

Environment Agency Officer Phil Shere said: The South West has 37 per cent of Englands dairy herd, and over half of the region is in a NVZ. So we have got a lot of slurry that needs storing over the winter months. While January 2012 may seem like a long way off, farmers need to act now. Working out how much storage they need, securing finance, seeking planning permission and inspection all take time and there is now less than a year to do it.

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones were introduced to try and improve water quality by reducing pollution from nitrates. Pollution from agriculture is one reason that two thirds of waterbodies in the South West are not classified as having good status under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

The regulations require farmers to store slurry during the closed period, roughly October to mid January so that it is not spread when the land cannot take it up so easily leading to more leaching.

Frozen, compacted or saturated land cannot absorb any slurry or nutrients that are spread on it, so it simply washes off, finding its way into the nearest watercourse.  And water quality is not the only thing to suffer. If the slurry can not get into the ground, the crops will not access the valuable nutrients that it provides.

So while investing in slurry storage now will put pressure on finances, many farmers have told us that they have started to see the payback in reduced fertiliser bills, by storing slurry and using it in the Spring. Spreading slurry in the spring is the most efficient use of the available nutrients. Crops can access up to 50% of the available nutrients from slurry in spring, compared with as low as 5% in Autumn.

Environment Agency Officers will be checking that farmers they visit in NVZs have made accurate slurry storage calculations and have taken steps towards achieving the required amount of storage for the closed period. Officers can provide advice about the options available, and signpost farmers to other sources of advice and grants that may help.

Although there are no capital grants available for slurry storage, initiatives such as Catchment Sensitive Farming and Soils for Profit may be able to provide funding to separate clean and dirty water, and provide roofing over existing cattle yards.  These will help to reduce the amount of slurry storage required.

From 1 January 2012,  the Environment Agency will record any failure to comply with the regulations as a breach which could put a farmers single farm payment at risk.  We will use the full range of tools at our disposal, including regulatory enforcement, civil sanctions and prosecution, where required,  to ensure the NVZ regulations are met and the water environment protected.

In the South West there are still a significant number of farmers who are unclear about how much storage is required. Some of the farmers who have attended our workshops have been pleasantly surprised to learn that some simple changes to the way they manage their stores mean that they will not have to make as big an investment as initially expected. Do get in touch and discuss your concerns with us. Better to act now, before it is too late, added Phil Shere.

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