WITH muck and slurry now being seen as an important way to counter surging compound fertiliser costs, farmers should be aware of new regulations which begin to come into force on January 1, 2022 – though some will be phased in over five years

The Scottish Government has announced amendments to the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 following its 12-week consultation earlier this year. These include improving controls on the storage of slurry and digestate to reduce leakage, and more targeted spreading to maximise the nutrient benefit and reduce emissions.

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Key elements of the regulatory changes include the phasing out of broadcast spreading of slurries by splash plates and the introduction of low-emission, precision spreading equipment.

In a lobbying success for NFUS, slurry stores built prior to 1991 – providing they are fit for purpose – can still be retained. However, all farms must have adequate slurry storage – 22 weeks for those keeping cattle and 26 weeks for pigs.

If storage improvements are needed, the changes will be phased in with some farms having five years to comply. If a pre-1991 store is to be ‘reconstructed or enlarged’ to meet storage requirements, then it will no longer be exempt and will then have to comply with the British Standards.

NFU Scotland said its priority will be ensuring all farmers and crofters are aware of the rule changes and ensuring that any significant investment needed on farms to comply will be adequately supported by Scottish Government.

It will also work with regulatory body, SEPA, to explore pragmatic options for compliance that take individual circumstances into consideration, encouraging compliance but also ensuring farmers are not penalised for things out with their control.

The union’s environmental resources policy manager, Sarah Cowie, said: “In what has been a nationwide consultation exercise for NFUS, we welcome that Scottish Government has recognised and revised the proposals that were of highest concern to our farmers and crofters.

“In the months since the consultation closed, we had been involved in constructive conversations with civil servants and SEPA with the aim of addressing these. Without the very active engagement of our members, this would have undoubtedly resulted in more costs being imposed on the industry.

“As a result, the proposals have been revised to make it easier for farmers to comply, while at the same time the primary objectives of reducing the risk of point of source pollution, diffuse pollution and minimising emissions, which NFU Scotland supports, can still be achieved.

“We will study the final version of the regulations that will come into force at the start of the 2022 and make sure our members have as much information as possible.

“When first published, the proposals drew a great deal of consternation and worry that significant capital investment for facilities and upgrades would be required to comply. A clear omission from the Scottish Government announcement was what funding will be available to assist the industry to make necessary changes.

“The only available Scottish Government support for slurry storage in 2021 was through a limited Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme (AECS). While AECS rounds for 2022-24 have been confirmed, there are no details on whether this is an option for slurry storage and spreading investment during the transitional period.

“NFUS is clear that where significant capital investment is required by farm businesses, adequate, non-competitive funding should be provided to allow them to adapt and invest in upgrades and equipment in order to comply with the regulations.”

Amendments to the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 are at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2021/412/made/data.pdf and include:

An obligation for farmers to comply with the Risk Assessment for Manures and Slurries (RAMS) – a tool which helps plan applications of organic materials for good agricultural practice and reduce pollution risks.

A phasing out of broadcast spreading of slurry by splash plates, and the introduction of low-emission, precision spreading equipment over a five-year period.

Silage bales or bulk bags must not be stored, opened, or unwrapped within 10m of any surface water.

A silo, slurry storage system or liquid digestate storage system constructed on or after January 1, 2022, must not be situated within 10m of any surface water, or opening into a surface water drain which silage effluent/slurry/liquid digestate could enter if it were to escape.

A silo, slurry storage system or liquid digestate storage system must meet ‘fit for purpose’ standards if constructed pre-1991. If constructed on or after 1991, or is substantially reconstructed or enlarged on or after the coming into force date, it must meet additional British construction standards.

New, substantially reconstructed or enlarged silos/slurry stores/liquid digestate stores from January 1, 2022 must have a life expectancy of at least 20 years, with proper maintenance. SEPA must also be notified prior to commencing the works.

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The minimum capacity of the slurry storage system and/or slurry bags must be sufficient to store the total quantity of slurry likely to be produced in 26 weeks by housed pigs, or 22 weeks by housed cattle. The total quantity of slurry is to be calculated with the formula set out in the Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (Scotland) Regulations 2008(a).

Where liquid digestate is produced on the farm and where liquid digestate is imported onto a farm, there must be sufficient storage capacity during periods when application is not authorised under activity 18 of the regulations, or would not comply with the requirements of the Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (Scotland) Regulations 2008(b).