SCOTTISH LIVESTOCK farmers need 'significantly enhanced' public funding to help them comply with strict new rules on the storage of animal waste in the form of slurry.

Animal slurries are both an asset and a liability to farmers – while they make excellent fertilisers, environmental restrictions around their use strictly define where and when they can be spread onto land, so farmers are obliged to store the material for long periods.

But of course livestock continue to produce slurry whether it can be added back to the land or not, and to ensure this ongoing flow always has somewhere environmentally safe to go, the latest rules require farms to have installed storage capacity for minimum slurry storage of 22 weeks worth, for housed cattle, and 26 weeks worth for housed pigs. On many farms, this increased capacity can only be achieved at considerable expense, which is why the National Farmers Union Scotland this week called on ScotGov to increase the agri-environment budget to specifically fund the high levels of capital investment required.

NFUS would prefer funding for slurry storage investment to be ring-fenced within the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, for the grant rate available per project to be increased and for the funding to be made more widely accessible – it noted that, from a total AECS budget of some £290 million since 2016, it appeared that less than 2% had been allocated to slurry storage, with only 134 slurry storage applications approved.

The union acknowledged that the focus of investment through the Sustainable Agricultural Capital Grant Scheme had shifted to precision slurry applications and slurry store covers, but said that the limited £5 million earmarked for that purpose this year would fall way short of the ‘transformational’ funding required.

There was an 'unprecedented level' of concern from farmers' union members over ScotGov's Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2021, which came into force on January 1 this year, albeit with a four year transition period. The union has described the regulations as a 'purely regulatory solution' that delivers nothing for the Scottish economy or for fragile rural communities highly dependent on agricultural production.

President Martin Kennedy said: “The union supports policies and practices that aim to reduce emissions and diffuse pollution associated with agricultural activity and believes all farm businesses can and should play their part in meeting climate change challenges and safeguarding water quality.

“However, If reducing emissions and improving water quality are to be attained through a just transition, then transformational funding needs to be made available in addition to the backstop of regulatory compliance," he insisted.

“The financial impacts of compliance with new regulations on slurry on some farms and crofts may threaten their economic viability. A proportionate solution is required that delivers the desired environmental outcomes without excessive or business threatening costs to individual farms and crofts."

Over the next few years both Scottish Government and SEPA have committed to working with NFUS through initiatives such as Farming and Water Scotland, to provide farm businesses with appropriate options and advice to ensure compliance and, moreover, help enable good or best practice.

Mr Kennedy said that engagement was welcome – but would not address the significant financial investment that will be required by some farmers.

"Those are additional costs that cannot be recovered from the marketplace or which banks are willing to provide additional lending for because such investment does not yield a financial return," he said.

“A significantly enhanced support package is crucial to delivery of the new regulations and vital if production levels from some Scottish livestock farms and crofts are to be maintained.” 

• For investment in slurry storage, the only current available support is through the very limited Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS). Since launching in 2016, some 134 slurry storage applications have been approved under AECS - thereby committing £5.21 million. There was no application round in 2020. Due to budgetary concerns, a restricted AECS application round opened in 2021 which included support for slurry stores. From a total AECS budget of some £290 million since 2016, less than 2 per cent has been allocated to slurry storage. Whilst the Scottish Government has committed to its continuity of AECS from 2022 to 2024, the agri-environment measures budget line has been cut from £42.7 million in 2020-21 to £35.8 million in 2022-2023.

• Regional case studies on the estimated costs faced by some farmers and crofters to comply with new slurry storage rules are available on request from