Farming Rules for Water – changes to guidance

21 June 2022

Crops Poultry Farming rules for water
An injectable slurry spreader at work in a field

Defra previously published statutory guidance that clarified how the Environment Agency should apply the Farming Rules for Water for organic manure spreading in autumn and winter. It has now revised some of its guidance without consultation. Find out what has changed.

June 2022 update

Previously, the guidance said that farmers should plan to avoid raising the soil phosphorus index above the target level or level 3 – whichever was higher – when applying manures.

The revision has removed the reference to ‘level 3’ or ‘whichever is higher’ and so now the guidance just says that farmers should plan to avoid raising the soil phosphorus index above the target level.

However, important exemptions to this guidance remain in place, such as where a farmer cannot reasonably treat or export manure produced on farm or where a farmer cannot reasonably import alternative, less-risky manures.

"This change has been made without consultation with the farming industry and we will be speaking to Defra urgently to seek further clarification."
NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw

Change made without consultation

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said: “We are disappointed that, less than three months after it was published, part of the guidance for Farming Rules for Water has been amended to seemingly prevent some farmers applying organic manures to certain fields.

“This change has been made without consultation with the farming industry and we will be speaking to Defra urgently to seek further clarification.”

March 2022 update

After months of NFU lobbying and input, Defra has published new guidance on how to comply with Rule 1 of the Farming Rules for Water.

You can read this guidance in full at the Defra website: Applying the Farming Rules for Water (this page will open in a new window).

The key points are:

  • The new guidance clarifies that the government does not intend to ban autumn manure spreading through the Farming Rules for Water.
  • The guidance clarifies the conditions when it is not appropriate for the Environment Agency to sanction farmers when they spread manure in the autumn and winter months. This is in response to the confusion that previously surrounded the rules and the steps that should be taken to minimise the risk of these activities.​

Defra also announced that it will provide further support through new slurry storage grants which it will launch later this year.

The grants are intended to make a significant contribution towards the costs of covered slurry store construction projects, to enable farmers to get to six months’ storage capacity. ​

Clarity and confidence

NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said: “This announcement provides much needed clarity for farmers and growers who have had significant concerns for some time about how the Farming Rules for Water regulations are being interpreted.

“The updated guidance on the Farming Rules for Water which will allow autumn manure spreading is positive. This is what we’ve been asking for and I’d like to thank government for making these changes. We will look at the guidance closely and we are continuing to engage with government on the importance of fertiliser and about ways it can ensure stability and confidence in the food supply chain.”
NFU President Minette Batters

“Over the past year the NFU has played an important role bringing together the farming industry, Environment Agency and Defra to agree that organic manures can be spread in the autumn, so crops are receiving the vital nutrients they require. This new guidance will enable farm businesses to plan with confidence and importantly, drive improvements that benefit soil and plant health as well as water quality.”

NFU Bitesized: Farming Rules for Water

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Our work on this issue during 2021

Efra Committee call for evidence

In November 2021, 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.

Support for farmers

Following NFU lobbying, on 25 August 2021, 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 a hierarchy of actions. By allowing activities that would not cause ‘significant risks’, the third stage of the hierarchy appeared to offer more flexibility than before for farmers who could not comply with Rule 1 of Farming Rules for Water or the RPS (Regulatory Position Statement) that accompanied it.

We continued to listen and support members who were struggling to follow the RPS, and to call for clarity from Defra and the Environment Agency.

We produced a flowchart to help answer members’ questions about the RPS and whether organic manures could be applied, as well as detailed guidance on how to follow the RPS.

Further information

You can 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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