Every Farming Business in England must comply with the farming rules for water. Engaging in the active application of these rules when undertaking on farm activities will ensure that you are compliant and can help to reduce nutrient applications.
Introduced in 2018 across England, the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations, also known as the Farming Rules for Water, aims to prevent water pollution by stipulating that farmers must carefully plan manure and fertiliser applications to avoid exceeding the crop or soil's need, to aid in reducing the risk of diffuse water pollution from agricultural sources.
There are 8 farming rules for water which farmers must align with where required:
Rule 1: Planning use of manures and fertilisers
Rule 2: Storing organic manures
Rule 3: Applying manures or fertilisers
Rule 4: Where not to apply organic manures
Rule 5: Where not to apply fertiliser
Rule 6: Reasonable precautions to prevent soil erosion
Rule 7: Protecting against soil erosion by livestock
Rule 8: Position of livestock feeders
As part of the inspection of on farm activities undertaken by the Environment Agency's Agricultural regulatory inspection officers, compliance with the farming rules for water will be assessed where applicable as part of a farm regulatory inspection. Read our guide on what to expect from an EA inspection to find out more.
We've condensed down what you need to know to stay compliant. Use the links below to navigate to information on planning applications and our quick guide to the eight farming rules for water.
Examples of plans include nutrient management plans or other written plans which show that you have planned applications of organic manure or inorganic fertilisers in line with the farming rules for water.
1. Have a tailored approach
The application plan should be tailored to the specific needs of the land and crops. It should inform decisions regarding the timing and quantity of organic manure and manufactured fertiliser application.
2. Assess crop nutrient requirements
Assess the nutrient requirements of each cultivated land parcel. This assessment should be based on reliable sources such as AHDB’s nutrient management guide (RB209) recognised farm software like PLANET, MANNER-NPK trusted nutrient management tools such as those provided by Tried and Tested.
3. Consider professional expertise
Seek guidance from a qualified professional, such as an experienced agronomist or a FACTS (Fertiliser Advisers Certification and Training Scheme) adviser. Their expertise will contribute to a scientifically sound application strategy.
4. Incorporate soil sampling and analysis
Incorporate the results of soil sampling and analysis into your plan. This information will help fine-tune the nutrient application to match the soil's existing composition and ensure efficient uptake by the crops.
5. Show nutrient content consideration
Account for the nutrient content present in the applied organic manures and manufactured fertilisers. This will prevent over-application and minimise the risk of nutrient runoff into water bodies.
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.
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.
You should consider soil and crop need for nitrogen (N) based on an annual crop cycle.
As a general guide, you 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 you can demonstrate that:
- it is not reasonably practicable to do so
- you have taken all appropriate reasonable precautions to help mitigate against the risk of diffuse agricultural pollution.
Plans should take account of how to avoid significant risk of agricultural diffuse pollution.
Low RAN (readily available nitrogen) content of organic manures has a RAN content equal to or below 30%.
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.
High RAN organic manure has a RAN content above 30%. For applications of high RAN organic manure, the potential nitrate leaching risk linked to the application rate will not be considered significant if one one of the following three criteria are met:
- The application is made outside of 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
- The application is made 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.
- The application is made during the time periods set 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.
|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|
To reduce the risk of soil erosion during the winter months, land managers should aim to have established green cover by 15 October each year. Green cover can include any commercial crop, green manure, or cover crop. Appropriate crops are the decision of the land manager.
Where land managers are not planning to establish green cover by 15 October, appropriate justifications must be demonstrated for leaving land bare over winter. This can include agronomic or environmental reasons, such as:
- Delaying drilling to enable activities to control persistent weeds, such as blackgrass.
- Leaving 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, you may justify delaying incorporation if it is not practical to do so within 12 hours of spreading and if you have assessed relevant risk factors as not being significant over the application and incorporation period. Circumstances 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.
For the full guidance, head to: GOV.UK | Applying the farming rules for water
Application of organic manures and manufactured fertilisers to cultivated land must be planned to meet soil and crop nutrient needs and not exceed these levels.
In assessing whether there is ‘significant risk of pollution’ farm managers must take into account the following factors:
- The slope of the agricultural land, especially if the slope is greater than 12 degrees.
- Any green cover.
- Proximity to inland fresh waters, coastal waters, and wetlands - You can use Magic Maps to assess proximity.
- Weather conditions and weather forecasts.
- Soil type and condition – improve organic matter to aid in nutrient retention.
- Presence and condition of agricultural land drains.
Your planning must take into account where there is significant risk of pollution and the results of testing for phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, pH and nitrogen levels in the soil, which must be done at least every 5 years. You can determine soil nitrogen levels by assessing the soil nitrogen supply.
To fully understand the availability of nitrogen in your soils you can use a soil testing service to identify if there are opportunities to reduce nutrient applications which could save you money.
The NFU has partnered with NRM laboratories to offer a member exclusive discount on soil testing.
Farming business’ must have a plan for management of soil P, covering the crop rotation.
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
- the land manager has taken ‘all appropriate reasonable precautions’ to mitigate against risk of diffuse pollution. ‘Reasonable precautions’ are assessed by EA on a case-by-case basis at inspection.
Organic manures must not be stored on land:
- within 10 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters
- where there is significant risk of pollution entering inland freshwaters or coastal waters
- within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole.
Organic manures or manufactured fertilisers must not be applied:
- if the soil is waterlogged, flooded, or snow covered
- if the soil has been frozen for more than 12 hours in the previous 24 hours
- if there is significant risk of causing pollution.
Organic manures must not be applied:
- within 10 metres of any inland freshwaters or coastal waters, or within 6 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters if precision equipment is used
- within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole.
Manufactured fertiliser must not be applied within 2 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters.
You must take all reasonable precautions to prevent significant soil erosion and runoff from:
- the application of organic manure and manufactured fertiliser
- land management and cultivation practices (such as seedbeds, tramlines, rows, beds, stubbles (including harvested land with haulm), polytunnels and irrigation)
- poaching by livestock.
Any land within 5 metres of inland freshwaters and coastal waters must be protected from significant soil erosion by preventing poaching by livestock.
Livestock feeders must not be positioned:
- within 10 metres of any inland freshwaters or coastal waters
- within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole
- where there is significant risk of pollution from poaching around the feeder entering any inland freshwaters or coastal waters.