Applies to England
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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/applying-the-farming-rules-for-water/applying-the-farming-rules-for-water
This guidance should be read with ‘The Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018’ (‘the 2018 regulations’) – also known as the ‘Farming rules for water’. References in this page to the Farming rules for water should be read as references to the 2018 regulations. The guidance has been issued by the Secretary of State for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under regulation 15 of the farming rules for water.
The farming rules for water were introduced to reduce and prevent diffuse water pollution from agricultural sources. It covers applying and storing fertilisers and the management of soil and livestock. The Environment Agency enforces the farming rules for water in accordance with its published enforcement and sanctions policy and guidance.
This guidance does not amend the regulations and its impact is limited to matters that are covered below. It tells the Environment Agency about criteria that they should consider when they assess if they should take enforcement action under the regulations.
If the Environment Agency determines that land managers have followed this guidance then the Secretary of State does not normally expect them to take enforcement action. Enforcement of individual cases remains a matter for the Environment Agency to determine based on the case’s particular circumstances.
1. Environment Agency enforcement approach
The Environment Agency will generally prioritise giving advice and guidance before taking enforcement action. They direct land managers to guidance and grants, and schemes like the Catchment Sensitive Farming partnership.
The Environment Agency may still escalate and impose civil or criminal sanctions if appropriate, in particular if advice, guidance and warning letters do not achieve the necessary changes in behaviours.
2. Applying the rules for the use of organic manure and manufactured fertiliser to agricultural land
Unless stated otherwise all definitions and terminology in this guidance should be read in accordance with the definitions within the farming rules for water.
The Environment Agency should consider the criteria set out below when carrying out an inspection under the farming rules for water. Enforcement action should not normally be taken where land managers have met the criteria.
2.1 Planning applications of organic manures and inorganic fertilisers
Land managers should be able to demonstrate that they have planned applications of organic manure or inorganic fertiliser in accordance with the farming rules for water. This includes for example, a nutrient management plan or other written plan.
- be proportionate to the needs of individual circumstances, informing decisions about applying organic manures and manufactured fertilisers
- show an assessment of the crop nutrient requirement for each cultivated land parcel that should be informed by one of the following:
- take account of the results of soil sampling and analysis
- take account of the nutrient content of the applied organic manures and manufactured fertilisers
The nutrient content of organic manure can be identified using available and suitable nutrient management tools or manure testing, such as laboratory analysis or near infra-red sensors for liquid manures.
2.2 Assessment of crop and soil need when planning
Land managers should plan to avoid significant risk of diffuse agricultural pollution. This includes not exceeding the needs of the soil and crop on the land.
Land managers should consider soil and crop need for nitrogen (N) based on an annual crop cycle.
As a general guide, land managers should plan to avoid applying organic manures that raise the Soil Phosphorus Index (soil P index) above target levels for soil and crop on land over a crop rotation, unless they can demonstrate that:
- it is not reasonably practicable to do so
- they have taken all appropriate reasonable precautions to help mitigate against the risk of diffuse agricultural pollution
Examples of when it would not be reasonably practicable to do so include if a farm:
- produces and applies its own organic manure to its own land and cannot reasonably take measures to treat or manage the manure (for example, if it exports it) to avoid applications that risk raising the soil P index level of soil above crop and soil need target levels over a crop rotation
- imports organic manure as part of an integrated organic and manufactured fertiliser system and cannot reasonably import organic manures that would not risk raising the soil P index level of the soil above crop and soil need target levels over a crop rotation
2.3 Assessment of significant risk of agricultural diffuse pollution when planning
Plans should take different approaches to avoid significant risk of agricultural diffuse pollution due to nitrate leaching depending on the readily available nitrogen (RAN) content of organic manures.
A low RAN organic manure has a RAN content equal to or below 30 percent. For applications of low RAN organic manure the potential nitrate leaching risk linked to application rate will not be considered significant if all appropriate reasonable precautions are taken to help mitigate against the risk of diffuse pollution. In this situation an application rate limit would not need to be enforced because of nitrate leaching risk. No more nitrogen should be applied over an annual crop cycle than the soil and crop need on that land.
A high RAN organic manure has a RAN content above 30 percent. For applications of high RAN organic manure the potential nitrate leaching risk linked to the application rate will not be considered significant if one of the following 3 criteria are met.
The application is made:
outside the time periods set out in Table 1, in which case no application rate limit would need to be enforced because of nitrate leaching risk
during the time periods set out in Table 1 with a single application rate limit of 30m³/ha for high RAN organic manures in general and 8t/ha for high RAN poultry organic manures — there must also be no repeat applications for at least 21 days during the restricted time periods
during the time periods set out in Table 1 at an application rate to meet the soil and crop need of an autumn/winter commercial crop, not including conventional cover crops or green manure
In all cases, land managers must take all appropriate reasonable precautions to help mitigate against the risk of diffuse agricultural pollution.
Land managers should not apply more nitrogen over an annual crop cycle than the soil and crop need on that land.
Table 1: time periods when application rate limits apply for high RAN organic manure
|Soil type||Grassland||Tillage land|
|Sandy or shallow soil||1 September to the end of February||1 August to the end of February|
|All other soils||15 October to the end of February||1 October to the end of February|
2.4 Assessment of reasonable precautions
Land managers should plan to have established green cover by 15 October as a reasonable precaution to help prevent agricultural diffuse pollution resulting from applications to that land. Green cover means any commercial crop, green manure or cover crop. Land managers may decide on the most appropriate type of green cover, depending on their individual circumstances.
Land managers must demonstrate appropriate justifications if they are not planning for green cover to be established on land by 15 October or if they are planning to leave the land bare over winter. Appropriate justifications can be considered for agronomic or environmental reasons, such as when land managers must:
delay drilling to enable activities to control persistent weeds, such as blackgrass
leave medium and heavy soils to weather before a spring root crop
Land managers should incorporate organic manures into soils to act as a reasonable precaution against diffuse pollution unless there are appropriate agronomic or environmental reasons not to.
If applying low RAN organic manures, land managers may justify delaying incorporation if it is not practical to do so within 12 hours of spreading and if they have assessed relevant risk factors as not being significant over the application and incorporation period.
Circumstances where it may not be appropriate to incorporate organic manures include but are not limited to:
if it is applied to a growing crop or grassland
if precision application methods for manures are used which mitigate diffuse pollution as well as, or better than, incorporation
3. Review period for guidance
The Secretary of State may review this guidance at any time and, in any event, will do so no later than September 2025.