Farming groups have breathed a sigh of relief after the Welsh Government indicated it would support voluntary measures to tackle nitrate pollution.
In a statement yesterday, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths said she was minded to introduce a whole-Wales approach to improve water quality, but she appeared to offer an olive branch to farmers who were extremely concerned about the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) proposals.
An NFU Cyrmu survey carried out in December 2016 revealed three-quarters of farmers did not have sufficient slurry storage to meet the NVZ requirements, and the average cost of upgrading facilities was estimated to be nearly £80,000.
In a last-ditch bid to change the controversial proposals, the union wrote to the Welsh Government in October this year to ask it to consider drawing on the experience of an off-set scheme used by a group of First Milk dairy farmers, which has seen participating farms save an average of a tonne of nutrient every year.
Ms Griffiths said: “Over the coming months, I intend to work in partnership with our stakeholders to get the right balance of comprehensive regulatory measures, voluntary measures and investment.
“I also intend to explore further options to provide land managers with flexibility, where these would achieve the same or better outcomes than a regulatory approach.”
NFU Cymru president Stephen James welcomed the change of tack, saying it provided an opportunity to implement a ‘practical and workable solution’ to improve water quality.
“We are encouraged that the Cabinet Secretary intends to explore a Wales-wide approach to tackling issues influencing water quality through a flexible, outcome-focused approach which will allow farmers to deliver improvements in water quality”, he said.
“The Cabinet Secretary has rightly recognised the role of investment support, as this highlights the significant costs associated with slurry and manure storage infrastructure on farm.”
FUW president Glyn Roberts was a little more cautious. He said: “This seems to be a far more proportionate way forward than some of the options which had been proposed, but we need time to assess the details and implications.”
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