New water pollution rules will help farmers, says Defra

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The government’s latest water quality regulations are designed to help farmers to reap the rewards of greater efficiency. James Pyrah runs the rule over the new system.

New rules for farmers in England were implemented in April with the aim of improving water quality.

Defra says many famers will already be compliant and therefore won’t need to change their water quality management practices.

The new rules are designed to create a consistent baseline across the agricultural industry and Defra hope to achieve this by standardising good farming practices and offering a new approach to regulation.

This involves putting the onus on farmers to evaluate resource efficiency and pollution risks on their land, then use their own initiative to decide on the right course of action to prevent water pollution.

Advice-based approach for farmers is welcomed

The National Farmers Union (NFU) says it is encouraged by the policy of providing farmers with an advice-led approach to demonstrate best practice, although the NFU want to see how the new rules will be implemented before fully endorsing them.

For the government’s part, environment minister Thérèse Coffey describes the new rules as a ‘win-win’ for farmers and the environment. She says the new regime will help improve water quality, while creating a level playing field for farmers, and enabling them to save money as a result of better resource efficiency.

The rules have three basic requirements for farmers: firstly, to keep soil on the land; secondly to match nutrients to crop and soil needs; and thirdly to keep livestock fertilisers and manures out of water.

The importance of checking out the new rules

Farmers are advised to look carefully at these new rules to be sure that they are fully compliant. In fact many already exist in the Code of Good Agricultural Practice.

It’s also important to note that farmers in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone or claiming Basic Payment Scheme should already comply with many of the regulatory requirements.

They comprise of eight rules – five relating to managing fertilisers and manures, and three on managing soils.

The essence of fertiliser and soil rules

The fertiliser rules mean farmers must test their soils every five years at least, before applying fertiliser or manure to improve soil nutrient levels and meet crop needs. The fertiliser rules include information on minimum storage and spreading distances from waterbodies, as well as a requirement for farmers to assess weather and soil conditions to lower the risk of runoff and soil erosion.

The soil rules stipulate that farmers must manage livestock by protecting land within five meters of water and reduce livestock poaching.

On top of these requirements, farmers are being encouraged to put organic fertilisers into the soil within 12 hours of spreading to reduce ammonia pollution.

Further information is available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/rules-for-farmers-and-land-managers-to-prevent-water-pollution