Poor ground conditions are preventing many farmers from spreading slurry – but as the start of the closed period on October 15 approaches Ulster Farmers Union President, Barclay Bell, has urged farmers to be ‘cautious’ to protect their Basic Payment from the EU.
Along with the other office bearers the UFU president has been visiting farmers in the north and west, where wet weather for much of September is causing major problems.
“Farmers in these areas are facing a dilemma. They have slurry to spread but the weather has prevented them from doing so. Because of poor ground conditions some farmers are unable to prepare properly for the winter. We have raised this with DAERA and NIEA,” said Mr Bell.
In 2005/06 the UFU secured the inclusion of the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause in the Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme. This caters for exceptional conditions, when farmers cannot fully comply with the rules, through no fault of their own. This clause has since had to be used in years when weather and ground conditions made compliance impossible.
“Farmers forced to spread when conditions are not suitable may be able to use the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause. But documentation may be required to avoid penalties, and this must be available”, said Mr Bell, adding that the UFU can assist members with this process.
European Commission officials do however have concerns about the current rules. They have scrutinised the monitoring of spreading practices and water quality data.
“The Commission cannot be given any excuse to strengthen the current requirements. Brussels will be keeping a close eye on compliance with the closed period and could demand extra storage if farmers are continually struggling to comply. The industry cannot afford to have more restrictions or additional storage requirements imposed,” said Mr Bell.
He added that while he was well aware of the practical problems farmers were facing it was vital the Commission was given no excuse to impose even more draconian legislation.
“Being able to show that we acted responsibly is our best weapon,” said the UFU president.