Defra and EA to provide ‘clear guidance’ on farming rules for water by spring

Defra and the Environment Agency (EA) have agreed to publish clear new guidance on the interpretation of the Agricultural Rules for Water (FRfW) for farmers by early spring.

The pledge was made at a hearing of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee last week, which was attended by the Tennant Farmers Association, soil issues experts and water and senior EA officials to discuss the controversial rules.

“Farmers have rightly been concerned about the mixed messages they have received from the Environment Agency about soil management – and when and how they can apply organic fertilisers,” the chairman said. of EFRA, Neil Parish, after the hearing.

“But today’s informative and constructive session made it clear that all parties are committed to finding a solution that makes the most of good organic matter while reducing pollution.

“I was delighted that the Environment Agency and Defra committed during the session to issuing very clear new guidance on this issue for our farmers by early spring.”

Mr Parish has written to Agriculture Minister Victoria Prentis asking for clear advice and better communication around FRfW. He told Ms Prentis that the session had taken place following “serious concerns raised by farmers and others that the interpretation of the EA prevented farmers from applying organic fertilizers in the fall for a spring harvest, which would have serious adverse effects”.

“There has been, and still is, great confusion among farmers and others about what the rules mean in practice,” Mr Parish said. “We recognize that EA works on a risk-based basis, where it is up to farmers to decide what organic fertilizer is appropriate to apply and when.

“However, there is clearly a need for additional guidance that supports farmers, that is more nuanced and recognizes the need to take a different approach for different organic fertilizers and soil types.”

“This advice should also be holistic – considering other water pollutants such as ammonia and phosphorus as well as nitrate pollution, and considering the impact on air quality. , net zero and soil health.”

Neil Parish

Mr. Parish welcomed that the EA is working with stakeholders to produce guidance in the spring, which he said should provide much-needed clarification in time for spring planting.

Miscommunication

“During the session, it became clear that miscommunication was a significant cause of the recent disagreement between the industry and the regulator,” Mr Parish said. “We are grateful to the Environment Agency for candidly acknowledging that its communications effort could have been better and for committing to improving it in the future.”

He highlighted concerns about the impact of the regulations on soil health. “During the session, we heard strong evidence linking higher levels of soil organic matter to water storage, flood mitigation, climate regulation, carbon sequestration , biodiversity and crop fertility,” said Parish.

“We therefore request that the government and the EA examine the interplay between agricultural rules for water and the incentive for sustainable agriculture, to ensure that farmers are properly incentivized to protect soil health while preventing water pollution. In the long term, we ask Defra to consider refreshing its soil strategy, which is currently over ten years old.

He underlined that, overall, the committee was encouraged by the tone of the session and the fact that all parties agreed that the situation had evolved and improved since EFRA had written to the agency in October.

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