With the end of the closed period in sight, the Ulster Farmers’ Union is encouraging farmers to use farm nutrients efficiently to ensure a maximum economic return can be realised and to reduce environmental impact to protect their Basic Payment.
UFU Environment Policy Chairman, Wilbert Mayne said: “While the closed period ends on the 31st January, the UFU urges farmers to remain cautious if they are spreading organic manures.
“The Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme restricts spreading of manures when conditions are unsuitable or from spreading too close to waterways.
“Any farmer caught breaching these conditions could see their Basic Payment penalised. After a very difficult year in 2016, this is something farmers cannot afford. Contractors should also be careful as they too can be held responsible in these circumstances as well.”
Mr Mayne added: “Applying nutrients efficiently provides an excellent opportunity for farmers to control the level of inputs being applied on their farm and provides another option to minimise the impacts that market volatility and weather can have on farm businesses.
“Many farmers will have been soil sampling over the last few weeks to gauge the fertility of their land prior to the growing season.
“This should form part of a farm nutrient management plan which can be followed throughout the year to ensure that both organic and chemical nutrients are applied at the correct time, in the fields that need it most and at an appropriate rate.
“There is no doubt that a well organised farm nutrient management plan is a valuable tool which can help farms become more efficient by reducing reliance on imported expensive chemical fertilisers.”
The union has also highlighted the importance of the need to be cautious with the application of farm nutrients given the on-going review by the European Commission of the Nitrates Action Programme and water quality.
Mr Mayne said: “While farming to calendar dates can be frustrating, thus far farmers have risen to the challenge of complying with a complex set of rules and invested heavily in new tanks and spreading equipment.
“European Commission Officials have clearly outlined in the past that they have concerns with spreading slurry in February and have been monitoring spreading practices and water quality data for February.
“It is vital that local farmers act responsibly during February to ensure that there are no detrimental results which could threaten slurry spreading in February in the near 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.
“It is also important to note that with increasing fertiliser prices, organic manures are a vital source of nutrients on farms and if spread carefully when conditions are most suitable will allow farmers to not only make best use of their slurry but also reduce fertiliser costs on farm.”
Mr Mayne concluded: “Post Brexit, the UFU will be scrutinising these rules to see how we can deliver protection to our waterways but allow farmers to farm practically taking into account local ground and weather conditions.”