Comment: We need some sensible advice from the Environment Agency on poultry manure

By Matt Donald, pig & poultry farmer, north Yorkshire

Being a mixed farm of poultry, pigs and arable, the current intermittent sunshine mixed with damp drizzly days is proving frustrating for getting harvest finished. Hopefully by the time you are reading this, all shall be done. As a business we consume far more wheat than we produce, so my biggest worry with the frustrating weather is that grain quality will start to suffer the longer it is delayed, and therefore feed quality can vary more.

The recent Farming Rules for Water brought in by the Environment Agency appears to be a rather badly thought through decision, given the water board spreads so much digestate and biosolids. Most farms use good farming practices and adhere to current guidance on manure spreading and storage, especially in a nitrate vulnerable zone (NVZ). We currently use as much muck as possible of our own in Spring, whether that is pig slurry through an umbilical system or poultry muck spread on growing wheat crops when the land is dry.

We have in excess of the current six months’ requirement within an NVZ for slurry storage, export a lot of poultry manure and retain some ourselves. Solid manures are best stored undercover; I can just see local councils welcoming an influx of planning applications for poultry manure stores, no?

The poultry industry would have to move approximately one million tonnes of poultry manure from Autumn applications to Spring, even after the oil seed rape allowance. If not in purpose-built stores, then temporary field heaps, which again will anger any nearby residents. Dry poultry manure can also be less practical to spread at 24m on growing crops.

In my experience, as well as other neighbouring farms, applications of pig or poultry muck before cropping reduces the pressure from slugs; they seem to avoid the fields manure is applied. So, if we were to stop spreading in Autumn, it is likely we would see a lift in metaldehyde applications. This in turn, could increase risk of contamination when not applied appropriately. All we need is some sensible, realistic clarification please EA!

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