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NVZ Compliance Problems - Food for Thought


by Paul Field

Talk of the NVZ rules does not exactly conjure up a glowing warm feeling in the farming community. In fact it's more of a feeling of dread. Not surprising considering the mass of environmental stuff farmers have to deal with. The trouble is that ignoring NVZ rules could get expensive. Most NVZ compliance problems can be sorted out reasonably easily and may even save operating costs, or at least save a SFP reduction.

I recently attended a meeting during which Iain McDonell, the Environment Agency Environmental Officer for Agriculture in our area gave an insight into what compliance problems the NVZ audits were turning up. Amongst the most common were:

  • Poor or non-existent records of nitrogen applications.
  • Manure storage calculations not done.
  • Risk maps missing or incomplete.
  • Failure to record sites of muck hills on risk maps. This includes failure to record muck hill construction and removal dates.
  • Failure to make a 4 Step Nitrogen Plan.

From what Mr McDonell had to say it was clear that pressure is on to ensure the NVZ rules are followed. I also hear the European Commission - Agriculture and Rural Development - is just aggravating an already unpopular issue by claiming that our EA is not finding enough problems.

Combined Harvester

It is here at home we need to be thinking about. The game is to avoid a situation where somebody can take your money for petty reasons. There are issues hidden under the paperwork that are more serious and some of those are touched upon below.

I believe our EA would much rather work with farmers than take the harder enforcement line, which Europe seem to be pushing. I don't believe the EA want to come in heavy handed unless pushed into that position by non-cooperation. Nor do Farmers want to be penalised for the petty issues when they are acting in good faith.

What are the Penalties for Audit Failure?

According to Mr McDonell the EA enforcement route depends on the seriousness of the non-compliance but will usually follow this route:

  • Advice or warnings.
  • A formal caution.
  • A prosecution.

Financial penalties can be incurred at any stage in the enforcement route. At the EA's discretion they will submit audit non-compliances to the RPA early in the enforcement route. Any notification to the RPA is likely to result in a reduction in SPS payment. The RPA will reduce a farm's SFP, usually by 3% first time but this could be more or less depending on the number and severity of the problem. If problems are not dealt with the reduction rises in following years to 9%, then 27%, 81% and finally it is reduced by 100% - you get nothing! During this process the EA are likely to pay more attention to the farm.

In summary then, it is clear from the foregoing that an EA prosecution is not needed for a farmer to be hit in the pocket. Non-compliance with paperwork alone can do it. A prosecution ramps the whole issue up into something much more serious though. I would expect it to be the result of a serous incident involving negligence, continuous contempt for the NVZ rules or similar serious event.

Poor or Non-Existent Records of Nitrogen Applications

This could easily lead to a breach of the NVZ rules simply on paperwork alone. Also if the paperwork isn’t there the inspector may be forced to take a closer look the farm’s operation. That applies to any inadequate paperwork. In simple terms the system thrives on paperwork. It is the fertiliser upon which NVZ and the EA thrive!

A rainbow over a field of wheat

A useful NVZ record-keeping checklist can be found in the "Guidance For Farmers in Nitrogen Vulnerable Zones". There is also a modified list in the NVZ reports provided by JK Seniors. The list shows where in the NVZ report most of the required records can be found. The records will change from time to time so there is still a need for the farmer to keep them up to date and possibly add a few. If there is a good record base there to start with then updating becomes a simpler task.

Risk Maps Missing or Incomplete

The risk map should demonstrate to an auditor that steps have been taken to identify which areas of the farm are at risk from nitrogen pollution. It should be a living document and not just filed away. Changes to acreage, dykes, land drains must be made on the maps within 3 months. JK Seniors provide a service for the production and updating of risk maps based on information provided by the farmer. Alternatively the farmer can simply write the changes onto the maps.

Failure to Record Muck Hill Sites on Risk Maps

The risk map must show where on the farm muck hills are located. There must also be a record of when construction started and when the muck hill was removed. The facility to record the required information is on the Risk Maps provided by JK Seniors. It is also easily added to home made risk maps so farms should not lose money over this problem.A muck hill

Looking beyond the paperwork there is a more important problem here. Just where can that muck hill go? Mr McDonell said locating areas free of land drains is a serious issue that is likely to receive more EA attention in the future. I take that to mean there is suspicion about what lies under muck hills. My observation is that proper effort is needed to identify suitable areas and get them marked up on the risk maps urgently.

Failure to Make a 4-Step Nitrogen Plan

This is covered in detail in the NVZ leaflet 9. Farmers can use the Planet software or, if more convenient, they could use JK Seniors qualified FACTS advisors to produce the plan. What is important is getting the plan right can save money in fertiliser costs and in crop yield too as well as avoiding a possible SFP penalty.

Manure Storage Calculations Not Done

The EA has stated that failure to show the calculations during a visit will be reported as a breach of cross compliance. The calculations, which should have been completed by 30th April 2009 for most areas, can be done using the procedure in the Guidance for Farmers – Leaflet 4 or by using the Planet software or, for farms that have JK Seniors reports the calculations will be in there already. Simply getting it done may save a SFP reduction.

The calculations will show if extra storage is needed and to what extent. Farms must have sufficient storage by 1st January 2012. Unfortunately for some this may mean a large investment so applicable farms must ensure the calculations are done urgently to facilitate possible changes in operation or to seek ways of reducing the slurry volume before the deadline.

Bear in mind that 1000m2 roof will produce around 350 m3 (770,000 gallons) of rain in this area in a 6-month storage period. It is very clear that the No. 1 priority must be to stop rainwater from entering slurry stores.

Some options:

  • Divert rainwater from roofs and clean concreted areas away from slurry stores.
  • Ensure washwater / parlour washings can be classed as "dirty water". Divert away from slurry stores and spread it during the closed period. To be considered as dirty water reasonable and practical effort must be made to remove faeces, urine and contaminated bedding before washing down. The term "reasonable" basically means a judgement has to be made by the farmer as to the effectiveness of the cleaning process prior to washdown.
  • Check out neighbours to see of they have the capacity to store excess slurry or if they have low risk areas that can be spread during the closed period.
  • Cover areas draining to slurry stores (silage clamps, slurry stores, yards).

East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire are in a Catchment Sensitive Farming programme. Some funding for store covers or other means of reducing slurry volumes may be available. There may also be funding available under the Rural Development Programme for England.

The Future

My crystal ball is malfunctioning at the moment but what I do know is NVZ will not go away. The only way to beat it is to make it part of the farm routine. There are ways to make effort now pay in the future. Hopefully this article will help get the thought processes going.

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