Farming Rules for Water: Read our latest guidance

Crops Farming rules for water
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We've submitted robust written evidence to the Efra Committee ahead of a session on Farming Rules for Water on 11 January. Read about our latest work on this important issue.

December 2021 update: Efra Committee call for evidence

In November, the Efra Committee, a cross-party group of MPs that holds Defra to account, opened a call for evidence on the Farming Rules for Water.

This call for evidence was in response to concern from the NFU and wider industry around the EA’s planned work to address the implications for spreading manures in the autumn.

We submitted a robust response to the call for evidence and also worked with key industry partners to submit a joint response.

Efra Committee rules prevent us from publishing our response before it does, but we will update this page with our response as soon as possible.

The committee will now hold an oral evidence session with stakeholders on 11 January to explore the issue further.

Our work on this issue during 2021

Following NFU lobbying, on 25 August Defra updated its website to include a new statement from the Environment Agency on how farmers should approach spreading manures during the autumn.

The statement included the following hierarchy of actions:

  1. If you can follow Rule 1 of Farming Rules for Water, then you do not need to use the RPS – carry on with your planned activities.
  2. If you can follow the conditions in the RPS – tell the Environment Agency you are using the RPS as described in the ‘contact’ section, and carry on with your activities.
  3. If you cannot comply with the conditions in the RPS, email [email protected] or call 03708 506 506 (general enquiries). The Environment Agency will assess the risk of your activities. For this autumn, it will allow activities that will not cause significant risks (significant risk may result from repeated applications to the same field or spreading close to protected sites, such as Natura 2000 sites). You must not start your activities until the Environment Agency confirms you can do so

By allowing activities that will not cause ‘significant risks’, the third stage of the hierarchy appears to offer more flexibility than before for farmers who cannot comply with Rule 1 of Farming Rules for Water or the RPS that accompanies it.

However, we still recommend members take independent advice before proceeding down this route.

Further clarity still needed

While this is a welcome development, several key areas of uncertainty remain. These include:

  • what compliance with Rule 1 means in practice in terms of what soil and crop need is
  • when it can be satisfied
  • how pollution risk is judged.

We are hearing that many members are still struggling to make sense of the RPS. If the Environment Agency cannot retract the RPS as the NFU has requested, it should certainly be looking to make the rules far clearer for farmers.

The Environment Agency statement also refers to the organisation’s enforcement and sanctions policy and describes how it acts proportionately when applying the law. The statement says this ‘normally means working with farmers, setting out what they need to do to be compliant, rather than moving straight to sanctions. The Environment Agency will take regulatory action where appropriate, for example where activities result in a significant pollution incident'.

The guidance in our flowchart below largely reflects the new Environment Agency hierarchy, but we will update it shortly to include the further information in the third stage.

If you are also in a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) then you should also follow the rules that apply to NVZs on GOV.UK.

NFU Farming Rules for Water RPS flowchart

We have produced a flowchart to help answer members' questions about the RPS and whether organic manures can be applied.

Download the flowchart: (you will need to log in)

How to use the RPS

To notify the Environment Agency, farmers must send an email to [email protected] with ‘RPS 252’ in the subject line and the following in the body:

  • Name of the person and company using the RPS, including their email address and phone number
  • Address where you will use the material relating to the RPS
  • Type of material that will be spread.

Farmers wishing to rely on the RPS should take independent advice to ensure that they understand any potential implications of doing so (particularly as there is no guarantee that the RPS will be available in future years), and ensure that they have complied with the requirements attached to the RPS.

Rule 1 of Farming Rules for Water

The Environment Agency had previously indicated autumn applications of manure are likely to breach Rule 1 of the Farming Rules for Water unless the AHDB Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) says the receiving crop has an immediate nitrogen requirement, such as is the case with oilseed rape.

This was an interpretation of Rule 1 of the Farming Rules for Water, saying manure and fertiliser applications to agricultural land must be planned so as to not ‘exceed the needs of the soil and crop on that land’ or ‘give rise to a significant risk of agricultural diffuse pollution’.

Farmers will need to consider their position carefully and may wish to take independent legal and/or professional advice regarding their circumstances to ascertain whether they are compliant with Farming Rules for Water.

New FACTS guidance

The 3 July 2021 also sees the publication of fresh guidance from FACTS, which the NFU and other industry bodies have helped shape, on what farmers can do to comply with Rule 1 of the Farming Rules for Water.

The guidance emphasises the role of robust and up-to-date nutrient management planning and signposts to relevant tools for doing so. It also recognises the differing level of risk associated with different manure applications and indicates where special care may be needed.

AHDB Farming Rules for Water impact assessment

Separately, in February 2021, the AHDB commissioned ADAS to conduct an evidence-based impact assessment of Rule 1, particularly ‘the restriction on the use of organic materials in the autumn and winter’. The assessment considered the practical and financial impact on farmers, such as having to reduce livestock numbers, build more storage and breach contracts with suppliers. It also considered impacts on the wider environment, as well as addressing evidence gaps and potential solutions.

The NFU sat on the steering group for this work and the final report has now been published.

Further information

For general enquiries on the RPS, email the Environment Agency at [email protected].

Alternatively, contact your local office, or call the national helpline on 03708 506 506.

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