The farming press has recently been highlighting the issue of slurry and manure spreading this autumn and likelihood of the practice being banned. What is the issue, and do you know when you are or are not compliant with the Farming Rules for Water?
Rule 1 is all about matching the crop requirement with the amount of organic matter being applied. The obvious problem is what happens to the muck that is not utilised. Where it can leave the farm there is a risk of polluting waters. On our Island that means ditches, streams, rivers and ultimately the Solent’s sensitive habitats can be affected. The later already has a Nitrate problem so more agricultural runoff really will not help!
It is perhaps stating the obvious, but here goes. Why waste a valuable resource and create an environmental problem? Ignoring rule 1 will inevitably result in a ban whereas complying with the rules means you can get on with sensible land management without causing a problem to anyone.
To consider a typical situation on an Island farm, you are thinking of having some digestate from an AD plant applied to your cultivated fields. Is digestate a weak or potent manure? The RB209 Nutrient Management guide advises….
|Digestate is normally produced ‘whole’ (a slurry-like material with a dry matter content of around 5%), but this can be separated into fibre and liquid fractions. Typically, whole digestate and digestate liquid contain significantly more nitrogen in the readily available form than cattle slurry. Usually 80–90% of the nitrogen in whole and liquid digestate is in the readily available form and applications would be subject to closed-spreading periods in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. In separated fibre (typically 25% dry matter), usually less than 30% of the total nitrogen is in the readily available form and applications would not be subject to closed-spreading periods in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, although this should be checked. Separated fibre contains considerably more phosphate than whole and liquid digestate.|
Whether applying whole or separated fibre, before your contractor gets underway have you first planned that the material matches, but will not exceed, the crop nutrient needs? To answer this requirement have you tested the soil for phosphorus, potassium magnesium, pH, and nitrogen within the last five years? If inspected, you will you have your fertilisers records up to date and cropping plans along with the soil test results to demonstrate the match between crop and digestate application?
Assuming all of your planning is correct do you let your contractor get underway? Possibly yes but only if they or you have first checked the condition of the soil and current and previous weather conditions. Before the tractor is fired up has here been an assessment of the risks of run off and soil erosion? That would mean thinking about the slope and soil conditions such as compaction, soil structure etc.
So far, so good and the digestate starts getting spread. However, you are putting the farm at risk if the soil is waterlogged, flooded, or snow covered, has been frozen for more 12 hours in the previous 24 hours or if there is significant risk of causing pollution from soil erosion and run-off.
It should not be difficult to comply with the Farmer Rules for Water but, should you be inspected by the Environment Agency, ask yourself these questions as the EA may put to you!
- Have I met the distance restrictions?
- Do I have little or no soil erosion and definitely no single area of more than 1 ha showing erosion?
- Is my land next to a watercourse mostly free of poaching and certainly no area bigger than 2m x 20m is damaged?
- Are there are no signs of fertiliser use in restricted areas – including excessive growth of vegetation on the margins of those areas?
- Do I have up-to-date fertiliser records, including those in calibrating fertiliser equipment?
- Are my soil test results complete and with sampling undertaken within the last five years?
- Is the farm free from pollution and there are no obvious risks?
|See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/farming-rules-for-water-in-england for the full details.|
Soil testing by an external consultancy can normally be arranged at no cost by the Island’s Catchment Sensitive Farming adviser – contact Mark.firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. 07851 093532.