EVEN though slurry spreading is currently off limits until after January 31, farmers need to be planning their action programme now to keep in line with the law.

As we know the UK has effectively left the EU and behind the scenes in London and Holyrood, future regulations on how to dispose of slurry safely as well as being environmentally friendly are being tinkered with and rubber stamped.

There are currently endless stipulations as to when and where slurry can be spread, but the best practice has to be the common sense approach.

All focus for the government is now on reducing emissions whilst spreading and therefore using machinery that does exactly that is being encouraged. It is also being 'bought into' by farmers, given the success of the recent short window of investment offered by the Sustainable Capital Grant Scheme in which a lot of interest was shown by applicants in upgrading slurry and muck handling equipment, plus storage facilities.

LESSE (Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment) is an effective way of increasing the amount of nutrients available for crop growth from slurry application, while reducing the loss of nutrient to air or water. For decades farmers used the universally available splash plate to spread slurry, but this system has high ammonia emissions (nitrogen loss) and they can also increase the risk of surface run-off into water.

Many farmers already using LESSE systems are finding an increase in the nutrient content of the applied slurry which can mean either increased crop yields or the opportunity to reduce fertiliser rates and subsequent costs.

Slurry equipment manufacturer, SlurryKat, based in Northern Ireland is heavily focusing on manufacturing more LESSE machinery for the future. Its CEO, Garth Cairns, said: “This ties in well with the new timeframes that farmers and contractors will have to stop using splash plates by, in favour of low ammonia emission spreading systems,” he said.

“In the last few years, we have completely redesigned our entire range of spreading technology equipment. Nowadays, systems are much lighter, more efficient, have higher performance outputs and are wider ranging. They now perform best with all types of slurry and on steep slopes.

“With greater emphasis on a greener environment in the future, we are always working ahead to ensure our products meet those demands. For example, our range of trailing shoe machines and dribble bars already have the potential to reduce ammonia emissions by up to 60%. This, we feel, is the future of spreading slurry and will satisfy incoming targets on emissions.

“With an estimated 9bn people to feed in the world by 2050, farmers need to ensure nutrient losses on crops are kept to a minimum, thus the need for equipment such as ours playing that vital role in sustainable farming,” he said.

It is anticipated that all contractors will have to stop using a splash plate on slurry tankers by June 1, 2021; all dairy farms with more than 170 cows by February 1, 2022, before a total ban by February 1, 2025.

Sensible spreading

Sensible spreading advice from Farming and Water Scotland is probably the most farmer friendly guide to the regulations available:

• Farmers are urged to keep a minimum of 10m back from a watercourse when spreading slurry.

• Slurry stores must be built in compliance with current regulations and should not leak.

• Keep a minimum free board of 750mm for earth bank lagoons and 300mm in all other types of slurry storage systems to ensure they do not overspill. Don’t site temporary field heap middens on waterlogged or shallow soils or within 10m of any ditch, burn, river, loch, wetland or coastal water (on sloping ground a wider buffer zone may be required); or within 50m of any spring that supplies water for human consumption or any uncapped well or borehole.

• Take account of the nutrients in slurry and manure when planning fertiliser applications. Maintain spreading equipment in a good state of repair.

• Livestock manures must be incorporated within two weeks after spreading on stubbles. Don’t spread slurry on frozen ground.

• Take account of the crop available nitrogen and comply with farm and field based limits - max 250kg/N/ha to any individual field in any 12 month period; 170kg/N/ha/year from livestock manure averaged over area of farm.

• Check weather before spreading; rainfall could wash nutrients off your land.

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Currently, the European Commission’s Nitrates Directive 91/676/EEC aims to protect water quality across Europe by promoting the use of good farming practices that prevent nitrates from polluting the water environment.

Areas where the concentrations of nitrate in water exceed, or are likely to exceed, the levels set in the directive are designated as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) and mandatory rules, set out in action programmes, must be enforced to reduce nitrate loss from agricultural land and to protect human health and resources from water pollution.

Around 10% of Scotland falls into this NVZ zoning, including the five following regions; Lower Nithsdale; Lothian and Borders; Strathmore and Fife (including Finavon); Moray, Aberdeenshire/Banff; Buchan; and Stranraer lowlands.

Covering slurry stores

Regulations previously introduced by the UK’s Environment Agency requested that slurry stores had to be covered by February, 2021, are still in force but in some cases for pig and poultry farms the deadline has been extended.

The Environment Agency said: “We are extending the deadline for when farms have to cover slurry stores with less than 1% dry matter from February 21, 2021, to August 21, 2022.

“In 2017 best available techniques (BAT) conditions 16 and 17 stated that you must have measures in place by February 21, 2021 to reduce ammonia emissions from slurry stores and lagoons on permitted pig and poultry farms. These measures include covering slurry stores, or installing a slurry acidification system which has been shown to reduce ammonia emissions.

“We have previously allowed operators of permitted pig and poultry farms who can demonstrate that their livestock slurry has a dry matter content of less than 1% to not cover their slurry stores. We withdrew this position in August, 2020, because we found no evidence to support its continued use.

“However, if you follow the conditions in this regulatory position statement (RPS), you will not have to comply with BAT conditions 16 and 17 until 21 August 21, 2022. This RPS only applies to operators of permitted pig and poultry farms who have been using our less than 1% dry matter position and permitted pig and poultry farms that store slurry under BAT definitions.

“This RPS does not apply to waste water (including wash down water and yard run-off) or solid manure. It does not apply to any other activity, even if it is under the same legislation. You may still need other permits or licences for other activities you carry out.”