A change in EU laws on the maximum contaminant levels of some heavy metals found in fertiliser products could see fertiliser prices rise on-farm.
EU ambassadors yesterday (December 12) endorsed a deal with the European Parliament on new rules for placing fertiliser products on the EU market.
The regulation aims to harmonise standards for fertilisers produced from organic or secondary raw materials in the EU, opening up new possibilities for their production on a large scale. In addition, it sets harmonised limits for a range of contaminants contained in mineral fertilisers for the first time.
Jo Gilbertson, head of sector, fertiliser, at AIC said: “The levels of certain contaminants that are permitted have been a cause of big debate. Contaminants are found naturally in fertilisers such as phosphate, acquired in the main from North Africa, where they have varying degrees of natural heavy metal contaminants such as cadmium.
“The food supply industry has been seeking to reduce heavy metals in the environment as a precautionary measure and it was perceived that bringing in a limit for cadmium and some other heavy metals could be achieved through these regulations, so it introduces limits for heavy metals for the first time.”
North and West Africa currently supply some 70 per cent of the EU’s phosphate, and the move will mainly impact fertiliser producers in the EU, according to Mr Gilbertson.
“Essentially it won’t make a lot of difference to farmers in the UK because it is mostly new regulations on how you manufacture and label fertilisers,” he said.
However, the price of some fertilisers could potentially rise as a result.
“In terms of how that will affect farmers, they will have to source supplies more carefully and be aware of the levels of cadmium and heavy metals in mined fertiliser raw materials, which means there might be a potential rise in cost for those raw materials.
“There’s clearly going to be an impact, but we don’t know the extent of that at the moment.”
The new regulation, which will replace the EU’s current 2003 fertiliser regulation, covers all types of fertilisers including mineral, organic and soil improvers.
According to the draft regulation, all EU fertiliser products bearing the CE marking will have to fulfil certain requirements.
“In terms of the picture in the UK, we’ll continue to have our own 1991 regulations running in parallel, and therefore it’s unlikely there will be any significant change because a majority of fertiliser manufactured in the UK will possibly continue to be manufactured under the 1991 regulations. It’s difficult to see any significant change but there’s a risk that as these regulations kick in there could be a rise in the cost of phosphate.” added Mr Gilbertson
The Commission presented its proposal on new regulations in March 2016 as part of the EU’s circular economy action plan. One of its main objectives is to encourage large scale fertiliser production from domestic organic or secondary raw materials in line with the circular economy model, by transforming waste into nutrients for crops.
If approved by the European Government, the regulation will come into place three years from entry into force.