McIlveen clarifies position on spreading slurry in exceptional circumstances

Date published: 03 October 2016

Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Michelle McIlveen, today said that following concerns raised over recent wet weather, her Department will consider on a case by case basis where - in exceptional circumstances - a farmer has spread slurry beyond the closed period.

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The Minister said she understood the difficulties caused by the recent wet weather including increased costs associated with worsening land conditions and housing of animals earlier than usual. She acknowledged that farmers faced increased difficulties with getting machinery onto land and that the weather also affected silage and arable crop harvesting and the emptying slurry of tanks before the deadline for the closed period.

Miss McIlveen said: “I understand that the recent wet weather has created difficult circumstances for farmers – especially in the north and west. I am aware that a number of calls have been made for farmers to be granted a dispensation to spread slurry during the closed period which comes into force on midnight on Saturday 15 October.

“While there is no legal provision in the Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) Regulations Northern Ireland (2014) to grant a complete waiver, I want to make it clear that under exceptional circumstances, beyond the control of and not foreseeable by an individual farmer, a defence may be made for non-compliance with some of the requirements of the NAP Regulations including spreading organic manures during the closed period.

"I believe that the challenges faced by some farmers over recent months as a result of high rainfall and the severe winter conditions in 2015 have been exceptional. Therefore where a farmer has reasonable cause to spread after the end of the season, the farmer will be able to spread.

“Such cases would be considered by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) on a case by case basis and must be evidence based showing that the farmer had taken all reasonable steps to manage the situation and was left with no alternative.

“I would encourage farmers who are experiencing particular difficulties to speak to either their DAERA Advisor or local farming organisation”.

The closed spreading period – from October 15 to January 31 - is a mandatory requirement of the Nitrates Directive.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) (the Directive) aims to improve water quality by protecting water against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. In particular it is about promoting better management of animal manures, chemical nitrogen fertilisers and other nitrogen-containing materials spread onto land. The Nitrates Action Programme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 (NAP Regulations) were introduced to meet the requirements of the Directive, improve the use of nutrients on farms and as a result improve water quality throughout Northern Ireland.
  2. The closed spreading period prohibits organic manures, excluding dirty water, from being spread from midnight 15 October to midnight 31 January. Farmyard manure must not be applied from midnight 31 October to midnight 31 January. Farmers are encouraged to spread slurry and manures throughout the growing season rather than leaving applications until just before the start of the closed spreading period.
  3. The scientific evidence shows that, in climatic regions such as Northern Ireland, during November, December and January, the plant growth rate is very limited by low soil temperatures, short day length and wet soils. This, combined with high autumn and winter rainfall, leads to the risk of nutrient loss being greatest from autumn and winter application of organic manures. In addition to causing short term pollution problems, nutrient enrichment of surface water contributes to eutrophication which is a widespread problem in Northern Ireland’s rivers, lakes and loughs; and a large proportion of this nutrient enrichment is attributable to agriculture
  4. The Commission sought a longer closed period in the last set of negotiations on the NAP and may return to this subject during the next review.
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  6. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or email DAERA Press Office:
  7. Please note that the out of office hours pager number has changed. Any queries, please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07623 974383 and your call will be returned. 

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