After an extremely wet three months, it is no surprise that the long-range weather forecast looks settled just as the closed period for spreading slurry kicks in.

Under the conditions set out in the Nutrients Action Plan, that closed period runs from midnight on 15 October through to midnight on 31 January.

Given the backlog of work that has built up on farms and the prospect of a dry and settled period ahead, farmers have every right to be frustrated when they are bound by dates in a calendar.

In addition, there is the example from the Republic of Ireland where two separate extensions to slurry spreading dates have been granted in recent weeks. However, it should be noted that the Irish government had pulled the deadline back to 30 September and the latest extensions still run out at midnight on 14 October.


In NI, there is no prospect that DAERA will extend the mid-October deadline. That deadline is in legislation and with no Ministers at Stormont, it is a decision a civil servant could not take. And given the recent furore around Lough Neagh, the backlash from the green lobby would be significant.


Over the years a number of people have suggested an alternative to the blunt calendar dates would be a system based on prevailing weather and ground conditions – if such a system were in place it is likely farmers would be able to spread slurry next week.

However, it is worth noting research from AFBI which suggests that if we relied on weather and ground conditions to dictate when slurry could be applied, it could actually mean there are fewer days available for spreading than exist at present.


Finally, there is the concept of “reasonable excuse” written into the NI legislation. In exceptional circumstances farmers can spread during the closed period so long as they can demonstrate they had no other option.

However, this really is a last resort which could attract unwanted attention – not just from the NI Environment Agency.

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