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Farming matters: Abi Reader - 'I find it difficult not to feel bitter about the NVZs episode'

The talking point in Wales right now is the shock announcement of whole territory Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) by Welsh Government.

Abi Reader - Dairy farmer from Cardiff who sits on the NFU Cymru milk board.
Abi Reader - Dairy farmer from Cardiff who sits on the NFU Cymru milk board.

Over the past 12 months Wales Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, promised no less than 11 times that NVZs would not be on the agenda while we remained in high alert through the pandemic.

 

Yet on January 27, while the country was still in lockdown, this promise was broken. I find it difficult not to feel bitter about the whole episode.


Welsh Government implies agriculture is responsible for polluted water in wales – actually we are responsible for 12 per cent, according to Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

 

While we cannot ignore this when NRW did its investigations it concluded that NVZ area in Wales should increase from the current 2.3 per cent to 8 per cent.

 

Astonishingly this has been ignored in favour of 100 per cent.

 

Under NVZs we will effectively get a stocking rate enforced on us because the regulations determine how much slurry and muck you can spread per hectare and it is very limited considering we are supposed to be moving away from artificial fertilisers.

 

So potentially some farms will have to destock, particularly perhaps those who have to buy-in any forage.

 

Also there will be closed periods when we cannot spread slurry or muck – October 15 to February 1. Farming by calendar is probably the craziest thing I have ever heard.

 

It puts pressure on slurry stores, can force spikes of emptying stores before and after this period and stops the ‘little and often’ approach many have during dry, mild periods through winter.


Some farmers in both England and Wales have been in touch to say they have been in NVZs for years and they have adapted.

 

Some also told me it has been very unfair they have had to deal with NVZs while others have not and this will now put everyone on an even footing.


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Whole territory Nitrate Vulnerable Zones have been announced in Wales.
Whole territory Nitrate Vulnerable Zones have been announced in Wales.

No scientific evidence

 

My argument remains how can the Welsh farming industry possibly accept rules for improving water quality with no scientific evidence they will address the causes of any problems and deliver for the better?

 

The Welsh Government has run an economic impact assessment on the effect of NVZs on the industry and has found it will cost a staggering £360 million in investment costs alone to meet their requirements.

 

When I think back to March and April 2020 negotiating hard for a £1m funding pot for the Dairy Support Scheme and how important this was to the 30 per cent of farms impacted in Wales, I struggle to see how we will be fit to meet this colossal price tag.

 

This will affect all farms and there is no doubt some farms will exit the industry rather than pay the price.

This means the local farm stores, feed mills, machinery dealers, vets, and other rural businesses we value will have less customers. This puts pressure on them and we go round in one big circle.

 

The biggest sting in the tail is the lack of derogation for farms with more than 80 per cent grassland.

 

This was found in earlier draft versions of the regulations, but not in the regulations now laid in law. Why have they been left out?


The Welsh agricultural industry was challenged to come up with an alternative approach.

NFU Cymru with other industry colleagues secured funding from the regulator, NRW, and employed a Water Quality expert for 15 months and set up working groups and events right around wales to find solutions.

 

We presented this to Government and we have never heard anything substantive back since.

 

We are facing a one size fits all, expensive, draconian regulations with no proof.

 

On March 3 there will be a vote in the Senedd to turn over the NVZ regulations.

 

If you feel affected by this please go onto NFU Cymru website where you will find a free, simple, tool open to all, helping you to contact your Members of the Senedd to explain why you oppose NVZs.

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