Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson, Harold McKee, has said that after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union farmers should no longer be expected to comply with the closed period for spreading slurry.
Mr McKee, who is a candidate in the upcoming Assembly election for South Down, said: “It was the EU Nitrates Directive that limited the spreading of nutrients on farmland in Northern Ireland. Whilst I recognise the need to protect water quality, the slurry ban was a slapdash policy when instead what was needed was something more well-thought-out. We need to move away from farming by dates and instead adopt a more common sense approach.
“Ever since the decision was taken to introduce a closed period from 15 October to 31 January, it inevitably has caused scenes – especially in the first two weeks of October – of farmers rushing to get their slurry out on the land.
“Slurry is an unavoidable by-product of raising livestock. With sheds full of cattle it’s hardly surprising that farmers want to free up as much space in their tanks for the upcoming winter period. However, the timing of the start of the ban also coincides with some of the wettest weather we have all year so very often farmers have very limited gaps on which they can get out on the land, or even worse, sometimes are forced to spread in less than ideal conditions.
“With farmers rushing to get slurry spread before the usually rigid and unnecessary deadline of 15 October, it also has led to the unintended consequences of farmers possibly taking greater risks with their own safety. We all know the dangers of slurry fumes so mixing it is most definitely not a job that should be rushed. No farmer would deliberately put themselves in the way of harm but a strict legal obligation to meet a specific date is a distraction that they simply do not need for what is quite a dangerous task.
“Whilst I am glad that there has been some flexibility shown over recent years when wet weather made it impossible for machinery to get into the fields, I believe that post-Brexit a wider discussion needs to take place about moving away from the closed period model. The Ulster Unionist Party would prefer a much more balanced approach – one which would include lifting the closed period and instead instructing farmers they should only be spreading if they are entirely confident that it will not lead to run-offs into local waterways.”