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England's farming rules for water – new statutory guidance

Following on from last year's confusing guidance regarding the application of organic and in organic fertilisers, DEFRA have recently tried to clarify their position.

1. Environment Agency enforcement approach

The Environment Agency will generally prioritise giving advice and guidance before taking enforcement action. They direct land managers to guidance and grants, and schemes like the Catchment Sensitive Farming partnership.

The Environment Agency may still escalate and impose civil or criminal sanctions if appropriate, in particular if advice, guidance and warning letters do not achieve the necessary changes in behaviours.

1. Applying the rules for the use of organic manure and manufactured fertiliser to agricultural land

Unless stated otherwise all definitions and terminology in this guidance should be read in accordance with the definitions within the farming rules for water.

The Environment Agency should consider the criteria set out below when carrying out an inspection under the farming rules for water. Enforcement action should not normally be taken where land managers have met the criteria.

1. Planning applications of organic manures and inorganic fertilisers

Land managers should be able to demonstrate that they have planned applications of organic manure or inorganic fertiliser in accordance with the farming rules for water. This includes for example, a nutrient management plan or other written plan.

Plans should:

  • Be proportionate to the needs of individual circumstances, informing decisions about applying organic manures and manufactured fertilisers
  • Show an assessment of the crop nutrient requirement for each cultivated land parcel that should be informed by one of the following:
    • A manual such as AHDB’s nutrient management guide (RB209)
    • Farm software such as Planet, Manner-NPK or nutrient management tools such as those provided by Tried and Tested. 
    • A suitably qualified professional, such as an agronomist or FACTS adviser
  • Take account of the results of soil sampling and analysis
  • Take account of the nutrient content of the applied organic manures and manufactured fertilisers

The nutrient content of organic manure can be identified using available and suitable nutrient management tools or manure testing, such as laboratory analysis or near infra-red sensors for liquid manures.

1. Assessment of crop and soil need when planning

Land managers should consider soil and crop need for nitrogen (N) based on an annual crop cycle.

Land managers should plan to avoid applying organic manures that raise the Soil Phosphorus Index (soil P index) above index level 3 or target levels for soil and crop on land (whichever is higher) over a crop rotation, unless they can demonstrate that:

  • It is not reasonably practicable to do so
  • They have taken all appropriate reasonable precautions to help mitigate against the risk of diffuse agricultural pollution

Examples of when it would not be reasonably practicable to do so include if a farm:

  • Produces and applies its own organic manure to its own land and cannot reasonably take measures to treat or manage the manure (for example, if it exports it) to avoid applications that risk raising the soil P index level of soil above index level 3 or crop and soil need target levels over a crop rotation
  • Imports organic manure as part of an integrated organic and manufactured fertiliser system and cannot reasonably import organic manures that would not risk raising the soil P index level of the soil above index level 3 or crop and soil need target levels over a crop rotation.

The full guidance is available here and should allow farmers to plan in good time for this autumn’s sowing period.  If you do require more information please do not hesitate to contact Alan Falshaw Farm Business Consultant on 07425186127 or afalshaw@vickersandbarrass.co.uk

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Vickers & Barrass

Vickers & Barrass

Rural Chartered Surveyors offering professional land agency services in the North East.

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