NFU SCOTLAND have criticised proposed changes to the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones rules, warning that any environmental gains would be minimal compared to the negative effects on farmers.
The union is particularly opposed to two amendments which would extend the closed period by two weeks on heavier soils for arable and grassland – with effect from October 2013 – and increase the livestock manure nitrogen efficiency standard values used in calculating available nitrogen with effect from January 2014.
Further, it noted the Government's proposals on both issues ran against the recommendations of Scotland's own environmental body, SEPA.
NFUS vice-president, Allan Bowie, who farms in the NVZ area of Fife, said: "It is difficult to see why the Scottish government is pushing for these changes to its Nitrates Action Programme. NFUS agrees entirely that farmers should apply slurries and manures in a way that minimises environmental risk, however, rules must be science-based and strike a balance with the practical and financial realities that farmers face.
"The evidence quoted by the Scottish government to justify some of its proposed changes relates to England and Wales only, and is out of step with SRUC research relating to Scotland. This is one reason why, in its submission, SEPA questioned the proposals to increase the livestock manure nitrogen efficiency standard values."
The key rule amendments are:
n Extending the closed period (when manure with a high nitrogen content may not be spread) by two weeks on heavier soils (soils that are not sandy or shallow), effective from October 1, 2013 for arable land and October 15, 2013 for grassland;
n Increasing the livestock manure nitrogen efficiency standard values used in calculating available nitrogen with effect from January 1, 2014;
n Reducing the time for which records need to be kept from five to three years;
n An increased individual field allowance in any 12 month period where compost is applied.
The Scottish government said that it will also be considering options to reduce record keeping for low intensity farms and reducing buffer zone widths through the use of precision equipment.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said of the changes: "It is vital that we protect our magnificent countryside and water quality from the adverse effects of pollution – for biodiversity, our water dependent industries, and the benefit to Scotland's people. But, equally, we must ensure we strike the right balance and do not allow bureaucracy to prevent our farmers from farming."