Nitrates stance

A farming group has welcomed the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) stance on the review of the Nitrates Directive for the protection of waters in England.

The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) says the cost versus benefit of meeting a required nitrate concentration under the Nitrate Directive is not feasible.

AIC Head of Environment Policy Jane Salter said: “We are pleased to see that DEFRA is standing firm in its negotiations with the (European) Commission on the future action programme, and that there is a positive trend in the reduction of nitrate concentrations.”

A review of the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Action Programme proposes keeping changes to a minimum, a move welcomed by AIC.

“On the whole we see further tightening of general measures as unnecessary,” she said.

“AIC also believes the more catchment-focussed measures of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) offer a more appropriate and cost-effective way forward.”

She added: “Although we understand that (Farming) Minister Jim Paice is also keen to use the Water Framework Directive in the longer term - and that this is the position he will take during the EU review of better regulation - there is no escaping the fact that the Nitrate Directive is with us for the short to medium term.

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“In certain catchments, the cost versus benefit of meeting the required nitrate concentration of less than 50mg per litre may prove both financially and technically infeasible. This is a challenge which cannot and should not be ignored.”

She welcomed the inclusion of all organic materials in the maximum nitrates rule in the consultation.

“At the present time there is an anomaly because nitrogen in sewage sludge, composts and other organic manures, not originating from farm livestock, is omitted from these calculations,” she said.

“As a result, calculations of crop nutrient requirements may have resulted in excessive nitrogen applications. We are pleased to see this loophole addressed. Detailed consultation will now take place with our members on closed period options and cover crops.

“We are also aware that Defra views the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Action Programme in the context of the water-quality benefits of other industry activities, such as the Tried & Tested nutrient management campaign, and the contribution made by the Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative, which has been effective in reducing nitrate usage. These initiatives show that more social interaction and clearer farmer communications pay dividends in the longer-term.”