WITH the poor ground conditions preventing many farmers from spreading slurry, Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Harry Sinclair is urging farmers to continue to be cautious in order to protect their Single Farm Payment.
Harry Sinclair said: “Some farmers have been facing a very difficult dilemma because they have slurry to spread but the persistent wet weather has prevented them from carrying out this work.
“In addition to the closed period which ended on 31 January, the Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme also restricts slurry spreading when conditions are unsuitable and outlines that spreading must occur at specified distances from waterways.
“It should also be noted that the use of sludgigators is now illegal for spreading slurry or dirty water.
“Any farmer caught breaching these conditions could see their Single Farm Payment penalised. Given the difficult cash flow issues on farms across Northern Ireland this is something that we want to avoid. Despite the difficult conditions, it has been recognised that the vast majority of farmers have acted responsibly to date despite the very challenging conditions.”
The UFU effectively lobbied for the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause to be included in the NI Nitrates Action Programme to assist with exceptional conditions when farmers are unable to fully comply with the rules due to no fault of their own. Farmers forced to spread when conditions may not be suitable may find that ‘reasonable excuse’ could be appropriate but documentation may be required to avoid penalties. The Union can assist members with this process.
The UFU has highlighted that the need to be vigilant is also important given the on-going review by the European Commission on compliance with the NI Nitrates Action Programme and water quality.
Mr Sinclair added: “European Commission Officials have clearly outlined that they have concerns with spreading slurry in February and have stated that they have been and will be monitoring spreading practices and water quality data in the month of February.
“It is vital that local farmers act responsibly this month to ensure that there are no damaging results which could threaten slurry spreading in February in the future.
“We believe that farmers in Northern Ireland could not live with any extension to the current closed period and the union has always strongly argued on the need for February spreading.”