CHANGES to the way that slurry and digestate is stored and spread on farms could have big ramifications for farmers and crofters.

New regulations will come into force on January 1, 2022 with some 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.

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.

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Slurry stores built prior to 1991, providing they are fit for purpose can 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’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 have been involved in constructive conversations with civil servants and SEPA with the aim of addressing these.

"The proposals have been revised to make it easier for farmers to comply, while 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.

“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 announcement is what funding will be available to assist the industry to make necessary changes.

“The only available 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.”

Scot Gov minister for environment and land reform Màiri McAllan, welcomed the changes, saying: “While slurry and digestate are important nutrients for use on our farms, they can also be damaging to our natural environment if not used properly.

“By using low emission, precision equipment, we can reduce the ammonia emissions by up to 70%, protecting our vital water environment and reducing the agricultural impact on climate change.

“We understand that farms will not be able to introduce these changes overnight. We have engaged with and listened to the concerns of farmers and where possible have made alterations that would allow us to meet the aims of the regulations while reducing the impact on businesses.

“We will continue to work with the NFUS and our farming communities to ensure a continued thriving agricultural sector, while meeting our obligations to achieve net zero.”

Responding to confirmation by the Scottish Government of changes, Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur has called for specific support to farmers and crofters in the islands.

Mr McArthur said: "The proposed regulatory changes are aimed at reducing emissions and the risk of pollution.

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"However, NFUS are right to highlight the potential costs involved in meeting these new requirements. For some farm businesses, such costs could prove prohibitive at a time when the sector is facing a number of challenges.

"It is important that Scottish Ministers put in place an appropriate package of support to allow this transition to take place.

"I am particularly keen to ensure any specific issues faced by island farmers are identified and support provided. This is something I will be picking up with Rural Affairs Secretary, Mairi Gougeon."