10 Jan Defra Introduce New Farming Rules for Water

Towards the end of 2017 Defra announced that as of April 2018 new rules for all farmers in England will be introduced. The rules are designed to help protect water quality, by standardising existing good farm practices many are already carrying out and offering a new approach to regulation.


Defra Introduce New Farming Rules for WaterBackground

These new farming rules for water were drawn up with farming and environment stakeholders to recognise and develop the good progress many farmers have already made in methods to tackle pollution. Following consultation on a proposed set of rules at the end of 2015, there was a mostly positive response for introducing the rules into law. Defra has now adapted the rules based on this consultation feedback, with the aim of making them practical and risk-based to prevent and reduce agricultural pollution.

These new rules fit into Defra’s wider work on improving water quality and the environment. They state that a theme running through this work is the need to make best use of the tools available to us so we can protect the water environment, whilst supporting a competitive and sustainable agricultural industry. The rules support other ongoing work, including the 25-year environment plan, River Basin Management Plans and the EU Water Framework Directive (remaining in force until we leave the EU).

The Rules

There are eight rules, five on managing fertilisers and manures and three on managing soils, in brief, they require farmers to:

  • keep soil on the land;
  • match nutrients to crop, and soil needs, and
  • keep livestock fertilisers and manures out of the water.

The fertiliser rules require farmers to test soils, plan and apply fertiliser or manure to improve soil nutrient levels and meet crop needs. They include minimum storage and spreading distances from water bodies. They also require weather and soil condition assessments to reduce the risk of runoff and soil erosion.

In addition, farmers are encouraged to incorporate organic fertilisers into the soil within 12 hours of spreading to significantly reduce ammonia pollution.

The Benefits

These new rules form part of a group of measures to help farmers and land managers look after the environment. The government is also investing £400 million through Countryside Stewardship, supporting farmers in creating or restoring precious habitats and a £12 million farm ammonia reduction grant has incentivised farmers to tackle agricultural emissions.

The new rules also offer benefits beyond just farming businesses, including, clean water to local tourism, fishing and shellfish businesses, and the reduction in the cost of treatment and protecting biodiversity.

The Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said: “These new rules are a win-win for farmers and the environment. They will help improve water quality, set a level playing field for all farmers, help businesses save money from better resource efficiency and improve their resilience.

Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it and these new rules will help us deliver our plans for a Green Brexit along with a better future for farming business.” (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-farming-rules-for-water)

Arlin Rickard, CEO of The Rivers Trust and Chairman of the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA), National Support Group said: “We have been working closely with Defra and farmers on the ground to ensure these common-sense but important rules are easy to follow and are set out in a practical and intuitive way.

“They will provide a clear point of reference for farmers and help maintain healthy soils, crops and livestock as well as reduce diffuse pollution. They will also help farmers save money by using nutrients more efficiently.” (http://www.theriverstrust.org/2017/12/01/rivers-trust-catchment-based-approach-welcome-defras-new-farming-rules-water/)

The Environment Agency will roll out the rules through an advice-led approach, working with farmers to meet the requirements before enforcement action is taken.

You can download the full policy paper here.

If you would like to speak to one of our team about what these changes may potentially mean to your operations, contact us.