Farmers who are required to use low-emission slurry spreading equipment (LESSE) from next spring will not be exempt from the rule despite new equipment being held up due to manufacturing delays.
The nutrient action programme requires all farmers with over 200 livestock units to no longer use splash plates from 1 February 2022. The requirement is thought to impact around 1,100 farmers in NI.
However, the high demand for LESSE, which increased further with the rollout of the third phase of the Tier 1 capital grant scheme, has led to delays at machinery manufacturers.
Where it is applicable, action should be taken to use LESSE
Speaking during an online event on Tuesday, Aveen McMullan from CAFRE said that the NI Environment Agency will not be allowing exemptions to the rule next spring.
“Unfortunately, no allowance has been made under the nutrient action programme. Where it is applicable, action should be taken to use LESSE,” she said.
“There was a good enough lead in time to these regulations coming in. Although if the [Tier 1] farm business improvement scheme had been a year earlier, we maybe wouldn’t have such a shortfall, but that’s just where we are,” McMullan said.
Under nutrient action programme rules, all slurry contractors have been required to use low-emission equipment since 1 February 2021
The CAFRE adviser suggested that farmers with over 200 livestock units who have not received LESSE orders by next spring should temporarily use a contractor for applying slurry. Under nutrient action programme rules, all slurry contractors have been required to use low-emission equipment since 1 February 2021.
Responding to the comments, UFU president Victor Chestnutt urged the NI Environment Agency to take a “cautious approach” to enforcing rules around LESSE next year.
“If a farmer has equipment paid for and is waiting on delivery, to come along and penalise that farmer because of supply issues would not sit comfortably with us in the farmers’ union,” he said.
“In practice, if you usually put your own slurry out, it could be hard to get a contractor when you need them because they will be going to their existing customers first,” Chestnutt added.
There is a “grey area” surrounding who pays financial penalties if rules are broken when a slurry contractor is working on someone else’s land, UFU members were told on Tuesday.
Speaking at the UFU webinar event, CAFRE adviser Aveen McMullan said that inspectors from the NI Environment Agency (NIEA) determine each case on an individual basis.
Did the farmer instruct the contractor correctly? Did the contractor follow the farmer’s instructions?
“When NIEA carry out an inspection, there is a process that they go through. They will try to determine who is responsible. Is it the farmer or is it the contractor?” she explained.
“Did the farmer instruct the contractor correctly? Did the contractor follow the farmer’s instructions? They will also look at the severity of the incident, has it been a repeat offence, and so on,” she said.
During her presentation, McMullan also gave an insight into the main areas of non-compliance with the nutrient action programme rules on NI farms. A total of 22% of breaches during 2020 were when farmers caused pollution of waterways.
Spreading slurry during the closed period led to 18% of breaches, and 15% of incidents were down to poor slurry tank or silage effluent management. Other non-compliances included farmers who were above the 170kg manure nitrogen/ha/yr limit and those who spread slurry using an unapproved method.