The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has welcomed the publication of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) guidance to the Environment Agency (EA) on interpretation of the Farming Rules for Water (FRfW).

The guidance has been issued by the Defra Secretary of State, to inform the EA about the criteria it should consider when enforcing the rules, particularly in relation to autumn and winter applications of organic materials.

The guidance has been published following a consultation with agricultural industry organisations including the TFA, on the practical challenges faced in relation to storage and application of organic materials.

It confirms that the EA should use an advice-led approach and that if that land managers have followed the guidance then the Secretary of State would not normally expect enforcement action to be taken.

Commenting on the announcement on these farming rules for water, TFA adviser, Kathleen Wolton said:

“We are grateful to the Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, for responding so positively to the concerns of the industry and creating the guidance group with Defra in the chair.

"The farming industry has been in a state of huge uncertainty due to the conflicting advice on the interpretation of the FRfW.

"This guidance provides more clarity on the advice led role of the EA and how farmers can work within the rules without the worry of being subject to sanction or enforcement.”

The guidance advises that land managers should be able to demonstrate that they have planned applications of organic manure or inorganic fertiliser, for example with a nutrient management plan, to ensure that applications do not exceed soil and crop need.

It also states that:

  • Nitrogen applications should be planned based on an annual crop cycle;
  • Soil phosphorus indices (Soil P Index) should not be raised above index level 3 over a crop rotation, unless this is impractical to achieve, or steps have been take to mitigate against the risk of diffuse agricultural pollution.

There are also restrictions around spreading high Readily Available Nitrogen (RAN) slurries and manures.

High RAN organic manures will be restricted to applications of 30m3 every 21 days in autumn and winter.

Both high and low RAN manures should still only be applied to meet soil and crop need.

“Given the current global crisis and rising energy costs, it is increasingly important that land managers feel confident in optimising the use of organic manures as part of their integrated farm management plan.

While this guidance is addressed to the EA, it will also provide farmers with the clarity needed to plan their autumn and winter manure applications,” said Ms. Wolton.