Following a series of farmers’ meetings around the country, NFU Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to focus on the science before bringing forward changes to the restrictions in the country’s nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ).
Some 14 per cent of Scotland’s agricultural land is currently covered by existing NVZ legislation aimed at reducing nitrate pollution in watercourses and the Scottish Government has been carrying out a consultation on improving the current regulations.
Yesterday in their response, the Union claimed the proposed changes “failed to deliver on either water quality or farm business health”.
Union vice-president, John Picken said: “It would appear the Scottish Government runs the risk of ignoring the recommendations of Scottish experts taking into account Scottish conditions.
“Instead it is concerned primarily with placating the European Commission.”
That he declared was both unjustifiable and was also a worrying undermining of the already controversial scientific credentials of the NVZ action programme. “We have made several positive proposals on how to improve matters for those farmers situated in NVZ areas, without compromising environmental protection,” he said.
“The burden of record keeping is counter-productive and fosters a perception that NVZs are a bureaucratic life-sentence, rather than a proportionate and responsive way to deal with a problem of shared significance.
“We have made suggestions on how the paperwork burden can be lessened, particularly for those with low intensity farms.
“We also believe that if the NVZ action programme focused on the keeping of records that are essential for ensuring environmental protection, there would be a better appreciation amongst the farming community of shared benefits of minimising nitrate pollution.
“As it stands, the burden of record keeping for farmers in the NVZs often obscures their appreciation of this fact.
On the positive side, Picken said the Union supported the principle of encouraging farmers to make the best use of slurries and manures to reduce fertiliser costs and protect the environment.
But they would continue to argue for a more risk-based and proportionate approach to closed periods, taking account of local circumstances.
Among the specifics which concerned NFUS were proposed extensions to the closed periods for applying slurry, sewage sludge and anaerobic digestate. These could widen by up to a month on anything other than sandy or shallow soils. The Union was also concerned at the tightening of controls on the maximum level of nitrogen that can be applied to a crop, the so called Nmax calculations. These could end up reducing the potential yield the Union claimed.
Later this year, another consultation on NVZs will take place; this time on the actual areas. Several years of testing water quality within existing NVZ areas have thrown up a number of anomalies.
In some cases, tested water within NVZ areas is well below permitted nitrate levels, in other tests outwith existing designated areas high nitrate readings have been found.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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