A decision by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to address concerns over pollution of the river Tweed has focussed farmers’ attention in the area on how efficiently they use fertiliser and animal manures on crops and grassland.

Now, farmers will be given advice at free workshop about the rules within Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ), including issues surrounding the applications of fertilisers and nitrogenn in particular.

To be held in the Greenlaw War Memorial Hall, on February 2, the 'NVZ and nutrient budgeting' workshop is being run under the Scottish Government’s new Farm Advisory Service (FAS) programme – delivered by local consultants from SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College.

NVZs are designated areas surrounding rivers, or water courses where farming operations must comply with strict rules regarding the amounts of fertilisers, dung or slurry used. The Lothian and Borders NVZ is one such area and each year staff from the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Division carry out random inspections on farms within the NVZ.

“The recent introduction of a new SEPA 'diffuse pollution priority catchment' for the lower Tweed means there is greater focus on water quality in the Borders now,” said Andrew Baird, from SAC Consulting’s St Boswells office.

“Many farms in the area will be getting an advisory visit from SEPA over the coming months and NVZ plans must be in place by March 1. This is a good time for farmers to make sure they are familiar with the rules surrounding NVZs.”

The workshop will zero in on wasting valuable nutrients by stopping the diffuse pollution they cause as they are carried off in water draining into ditches, burns and rivers. It will also help farmers put a value, in both cash and plant nutrient terms, on the dung and slurry produced by their livestock units.

“Fertiliser can make up over 40% of the variable costs of producing an arable crop," commented Mr Baird. “By creating a nutrient budget and taking account of the nutrient value of farm slurries and manures, there is definitely scope for businesses to make savings by using them to replace purchased fertiliser.

"It also helps avoid inspection penalties. Breaches are still commonly found at NVZ inspections and this normally results in a 5% cut in the farmers CAP support payments. That represents a significant sum of money for most businesses.”

* The meeting is free and those planning to attend should book in advance through the new FAS website www.fas.scot/events, or by contacting the SAC Consulting office on St Boswells on 01835 823322 or e-mail frbsstboswells@sac.co.uk