Natural England boss Tony Juniper has backed the idea of abolishing closed periods for slurry spreading.
During a visit to South Acre Farm in York this week, Mr Juniper was told by NFU dairy board vice chair Paul Tompkins that farming by date does not work for the environment, and encourages farmers to spread slurry at inappropriate times outside closed periods to ensure their stores do not overflow.
Asked by Farmers Guardian whether he agreed the policy of closed periods needed to change, Mr Juniper said: “The experience I had last week of visiting farmers in Wensleydale [where a payment-by-results trial is taking place], which was much more about results rather than calendar dates, shows me giving farmers a lot of flexibility is very likely to get better results than putting very specific, almost tick box prescriptions into place.
“They may be easier to measure, but actually, they are not necessarily delivering the value we need, so taking that more flexible approach seems logical.”
Mr Juniper’s comments came as the Welsh Government pressed ahead with its plans to introduce new water regulations, which include closed periods for spreading slurry.
NFU Cymru president John Davies said: “It is interesting to hear a flexible approach to nutrient application and the outcomes it can achieve is being heralded by the chairman of Natural England at a time when Welsh Government is pushing on with a polar opposite approach.
“Just last week, NFU Cymru had to write to Ministers to seek an exemption which will allow farmers operating in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) to spread during the closed period.
“This request comes as increasing numbers of farmers in NVZs have contacted the union highly concerned and distressed that the prolonged wet weather of recent weeks has prevented them from spreading, with the result they head into the closed period with their slurry storage near or close to full capacity.”
FUW policy officer Ceri Davies also said the ‘farming by calendar’ approach taken by Welsh Government was ‘extremely restrictive’ and could be ‘counterproductive’.
“FUW agrees a more flexible approach is needed to ensure the well-being of the environment as well as optimising productivity on farm,” he added.