Bid to halt spread of nitrate zones
9:00am Friday 30th December 2011 in Pembrokeshire Farmer
Attempts to extend Wales’s nitrate vulnerable zones from 2013 will be resisted by the farming industry, unless there is scientific proof that nitrate levels are too high.
From January 1st, around 4% of Wales’s farmland will be classified as NVZs.
All farmers within these zones must have up to six months storage for livestock slurry in place by that date.
The regulations will be enforced by the Environment Agency and, if they are breached, farmers risk losing part of their single farm payment.
Most of the 1,000 or so affected holdings are in north east Wales but there are also small areas designated around Llyn Coron, Anglesey, the Bosherston lily pools catchment area in south Pembrokeshire and a small area on the southern part of the border between Wales and England.
Both NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales insist they will only support an extension of NVZs if there is clear evidence that water quality is being compromised by high nitrate levels.
Stephen James, NFU Cymru’s deputy president, described the NVZ regulations as an ‘outdated piece of legislation’ which looks at agriculture in isolation.
"It is our view that with the introduction of the Water Framework Directive, which looks at all factors affecting water quality in a catchment area, the NVZ regulations serve little purpose in Wales,’’ he said.
NFU Cymru, he added, believed that NVZ record- keeping requirements were overly complicated and bureaucratic and had asked that they be simplified.
One of the biggest worries among dairy farmers is the investment needed to comply with slurry storage rules. Construction of new slurry storage can vary from £5 per cubic metre to £40, depending on the type of storage chosen, Mr James explained.
For a typical 150-cow herd, this represents investment of between £13,000 and £90,000, before planning costs.
"With farmers on average being paid a milk price 3ppl less than it costs to produce it, complying with NVZ rules may be a step too far for some farmers,’’ added Mr James.
However the Welsh Government has been operating a capital grant scheme over the past two years and among the incentives farmers can claim up to half the cost of new slurry stores. This grant came to an end on December 31st.
The Farmers’ Union of Wales insists there is no nitrate problem in Wales, although it does support which it terms the ‘discrete approach’ adopted by the Welsh Government.
It opposes the designation of further NVZs in Wales.
It says nitrate levels are falling because of reductions in livestock numbers, the introduction of cross compliance and increased fertiliser prices.
"The union believes that extending the existing NVZ areas is due more to external pressures to designate than scientific fact,’’ said an FUW spokesperson.
Meanwhile, consultation on proposed NVZs from 2013 onwards is expected shortly.
The Welsh Government said it was still in the process of developing its public consultation. This would set out its proposals for designating NVZs and the associated action plans for Wales.
"The consultation will show the areas of designation under consideration, it will also include the methodology which has been used to set the designated land areas,’’ said a Welsh Government spokesperson.
"The consultation will provide the opportunity for stakeholders to make comments.’’ The FUW believes that de-notification should be considered once nitrate levels fall below threshold levels in watercourses within designated NVZs.
It is concerned that to date no de-designation has taken place.