Farmers are demanding a bigger budget and faster turnaround for slurry store grants, as they are pushed to comply with new environmental rules.

The current payment rate of £15 per cubic metre up to a maximum of £30,000 is falling behind rapidly rising constructions costs. Further the slow turn around of applications means that it can be 12 months before building can start after applying for a grant. This delay is costing farmers thousands of pounds as estimates rise every month due to inflation.

“We couldn’t afford to wait for the application to be processed,” explained pig and beef farmer Fraser Shaw of Dryfeholm Farm in Dumfries. “Last year we approach the department for a slurry store grant through the AEC scheme but we were told it would be December at the earliest before we could receive approval, then we would need to get planning. It was a ridiculous amount of time to wait to start building. If we wanted the grant we couldn’t started building until the approvals came through.

“In the end we went ahead ourselves and build a 1.8 million gallon lagoon which ended up costing £100,000 all in. The liner alone went up by 20% on the year and ended up costing around £50,000. We were able to use construction vehicles using red diesel as it was before the change, but now they would be onto white.

“The price of fertiliser rising meant we wanted to be able to utilise the nutrient in our slurry as quickly as possible, so waiting would have meant we bought more fertiliser onto the farm. We can now store slurry for 10 months and use it when it is right for the ground in the spring. We want to make the most of our slurry and reduce buying in fertiliser as this is currently the worst financial time ever I have experienced in pigs.”

Meanwhile NFU Scotland are lobbying the Scottish Government to increase the level of grant funding available. Vice president Andrew Connon said: “NFUS continues to call on the Scottish Government to increase the agri-environment budget as a priority to specifically fund the significant levels of capital investment that will be required on many Scottish farms to comply with new slurry storage rules coming into force over the next four years.

“We made the call in our submission on the rule changes in 2021 and repeated the call in a letter to Scottish Government in April.

“We want funding for slurry storage investment to be ring-fenced within the AECS, the grant rate available per project to be increased and for the funding to be made more widely accessible. From a total AECS budget of some £290 million since 2016, it appears that less than 2% has been allocated to slurry storage, with only 134 slurry storage applications approved.

“While the new regulations allow for a four-year transition period to help farm businesses become compliant, affording such time provides only limited assistance if it isn’t backed by appropriate levels of funding," said Mr Connon.

"The true costs of compliance will be the cost of capital investment requirements faced by many farm businesses – not least in economically fragile locations such as the Kintyre milk field and the Orkney beef sector.

“These are additional compliance costs that cannot be recovered from the marketplace or which banks are unwilling to provide additional lending for because such investment does not yield a financial return. We have made it clear to Scottish Government that we believe 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 is to be maintained."

Read more: Union in talks with SEPA to lessen impact of new slurry rules

Farmer and union complaints are not aimed at SEPA officials or department staff who are regularly praised for working with the industry. In late June, NFUS held a Kintyre branch meeting with SEPA. The meeting was described as a success and helped to clarify exactly the amount of slurry upgrades required and the financial impact that the area will be facing as it moves towards compliance to new slurry rules in January 2027.

A ScotGov spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government wants to help people in Scotland to farm and croft more sustainably as we work to become a global leader in regenerative agriculture. Helping farmers, crofters and agricultural contractors to change their practice by ensuring they have access to the right equipment, tools and knowledge is key.

“The amount of grant on offer through SACGS is for low emission slurry spreading and slurry store covers and is based on standard costs, set at a level that is proportionate to the costs of the eligible equipment. Separately slurry store funding is also available through AECS, on a standard cost basis, in SEPA identified priority catchment areas. Since 2014 the Scottish Government has committed £6.2 million to 161 AECS Slurry Storage applications. Agriculture is devolved and it is for each part of the UK to develop policies for its own circumstances.

“We will continue to support the rural economy with stability and simplicity until 2025 and we remain committed to supporting active farming and food production with direct payments, however Brexit means we no longer have long-term certainty of funding and unilateral choices imposed by HM Treasury provide insufficient replacement for the EU budget. The support offered reflects this. Between 2021-22 and 2024-25 Scotland is set to lose out on approximately £93 million.”

However, Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has criticised the size of the Scottish budget for slurry grants and has asked parliamentary questions on the topic, comparing support in England with Scotland. He said: “Both governments have recognised the need to support farmers in improving the storage of slurry. But for some reason the Scottish Government has decided to be considerably less generous.

“Scottish ministers should rethink this restrictive offer and ensure farmers can access the support they need to comply with these rules.”