Get ready for closed period

As we move towards the closed period it is important that farmers across Northern Ireland (NI) are fully aware of the rules and regulations on slurry spreading.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 20th September 2021, 8:41 am

A revised Nutrient Action Programme (NAP) was introduced in 2019 with changes phased in over the last couple of years.

A new Guidance Booklet was produced and is available on the DAERA website with some hard copies at DAERA Direct offices. The booklet provides further detail and interpretation of the regulations that are in place and is a useful resource for farmers.

It is important to note that the closed spreading period for chemical fertiliser started on 15 September and therefore it will be an offence for farmers to spread chemical fertilisers from now until the end of January 2022. There are some exceptions to this rule for crops other than grass for example winter cabbages may require a nitrogen top dressing and cereal crops may require phosphate/or potash at sowing. There is also an exemption for the application of chemical potassium fertiliser to grass (provided it is not blended with N&P). There is no need to notify NIEA of these exceptional applications, but records should be kept.

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With the recent good weather and ground conditions, it is important that farmers are planning slurry spreading to ensure they are ready for the closed slurry spreading period which starts at midnight on 15 October. A key change to the NAP rules is that farmers spreading slurry in early October (1 October – 15 October) will have to abide by increased buffer zones in fields adjacent to waterways and the maximum slurry application rate has been reduced from 50m3/ha (4500gallons/acre) to 30m3/ha (2700gallons/acre) at any one time. The closed period for farmyard manure starts at midnight on 31 October. Farmers should always take care when working with slurry and remember the health and safety messages.

It is now a requirement to use Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE) on some farms. From 1 January 2020 the spreading of anaerobic digestate has to be carried out with LESSE. From 1 January 2021 all slurry contractors and from 1 January 2022 cattle farms with more than 200 livestock units and pig units with a total annual manure nitrogen production of more than 20,000kg must use LESSE for spreading slurry.

The UFU continue to highlight that there are delays in obtaining these tankers as manufacturers struggle to keep up with demand and we will continue to monitor this and ensure that DAERA and NIEA are fully aware of the situation.

To help improve compliance and water quality the UFU are providing training sessions for slurry contractors. Two online sessions are planned for Tuesday 21 and 28 September 2021 at 8.00pm with plans for further events during the closed period. Details on how to register for these short training sessions can be found in the ‘Events’ section of the UFU website and the Union would encourage contractors and their employees to attend these online events.

While there have been improvements in water quality since the first NAP was introduced, NI needs to make further progress. A recent assessment of water bodies shows that the overall status of water bodies at ‘good or better’ condition remains unchanged from the last report in 2015 which means that NI did not hit its target objective of 70% of waterbodies at this status.

While all sectors are responsible for water quality issues and need to take action, agriculture could do better, and a focus is needed to show greater improvements over the next few years otherwise further restrictions could be imposed. The Republic of Ireland have found themselves in this position with draconian revisions to their NAP currently going through a consultation process which are of grave concern.

A key focus will be the amount of phosphorus used on farms in animal feed and fertiliser. There is evidence that many farms are using more that the optimum which has both environmental and economic consequences. Going forward there will be a targeted approach taken to try and reduce phosphorus on NI farms.

The UFU would also remind farmers that the routine inspections for the environmental aspects of cross-compliance, including the NAP are now underway. Over the last few years NIEA have identified a range of non-compliance issues with the main reasons for breaches being, failure to provide sufficient records, inadequate storage facilities associated with middens and concerns around storage. Farmers should make themselves aware of the details and requirements of cross compliance to ensure they are compliant and to protect their payments. NIEA will normally give at least seven days notice of an inspection and the UFU can provide advice and assistance on preparing for an inspection.