NFU Cymru has offered the Welsh Government a ‘workable alternative’ to extending Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) after one in eight farmers said they would quit the industry if the plans went ahead unchanged.
Research carried out by the union last year showed almost three-quarters of surveyed farmers did not have enough slurry storage to meet the NVZ requirements and the average cost of upgrading facilities was almost £80,000.
Now, NFU Cymru has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, to ask her to consider drawing on the experience of an off-set scheme used by a group of First Milk dairy farmers instead of pressing ahead with controversial plans to extend NVZs.
The programme, in the Cleddau Catchment in Pembrokeshire, requires farmers to choose mitigating measures which are appropriate to their system.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) record and audits the scheme, which has seen participating farms save an average of a tonne of nutrient every year.
NFU Cymru president Stephen James said: “We are clear any new designations will have a significant impact upon the business of farmers and severely hit the rural economy.
“The costs associated with implementation vastly outweigh the benefits to water quality.
“Farmers do, however, recognise their role in improving water quality and have developed a workable solution which has the potential to deliver far more than can be achieved through the NVZ Action Programme.
“The measures suggested with this approach address diffuse pollution issues and also provide habitat improvement.
“Developed in partnership, we believe they are likely to engender the confidence and ‘buy-in’ of the farming community – our own survey work shows significant will from Welsh farmers to address the issue of nitrate pollution and improve water quality.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are pleased NFU Cymru is committed to working with us to tackle agricultural pollution.
“We are carefully considering the responses to our recent consultation on NVZs in Wales and we are keen to explore ways to bring about the improvements we are all striving for in respect of water quality.
“The Cabinet Secretary will be announcing her preferred approach later in the year.”