New urea rules – what you need to know

Environment and climate
Liquid sprayer

A new industry approach for the use of urea-based fertilisers will come into effect on 1 April. 

It means solid urea fertilisers must be used with an inhibitor for most of the year.

Uninhibited solid urea can only be used from 15 January to 31 March, as part of efforts to limit emissions. The new rules only apply to England and affect any fertiliser that contains 1% or more of urea and is soil-applied.

Uninhibited liquid urea can be used from 15 January to 31 March but must be used with an inhibitor from 1 April unless agronomic justification is provided by a FACTS-qualified farm personnel or adviser.

Compliance will be overseen by Red Tractor, with farm inspections including records of responsible fertiliser use.

How we got here

The arrangements follow more than two years of NFU campaigning, with Defra favouring a total ban on solid urea.

The NFU instead proposed an industry-self regulated approach as an alternative, setting out the importance of solid urea fertiliser for food production.

The agreed route ahead was then pushed back by a year following calls from the NFU for a delay due to unprecedented upheavals in fertiliser markets.

In a statement, a cross industry group including the NFU, AIC, AICC, BASIS, CLA, NIAB and Red Tractor said urea was a vital tool for farmers that also helped to maintain a competitive fertiliser market.

They added: “As an industry, we fought hard for nearly two years to achieve a robust and pragmatic self-regulation approach and put forward a strong case to Defra, without which we would have seen a ban imposed on the use of solid urea fertilisers.

“After a delay of 12 months and with the fertiliser markets returning to normal, the new approach will start from 1 April. Farmers and growers are reminded to use uninhibited solid urea between 15 January and 31 March under a new Red Tractor standard. Outside of this window solid urea must be used with an inhibitor.

“In limited situations, liquid urea can be used without an inhibitor from 1 April to the last application in autumn as long as this has been approved by a FACTS qualified adviser on the professional register.

“The industry believes this self-regulated option will see a high uptake by farmers and growers and minimise costs, while ensuring an acceptable emissions reduction is achieved for Defra, in a way that also allows farming to achieve other important ambitions around productivity and achieving net zero by 2040.”

What you need to know

For England, option 4 states fertilisers containing more than 1% urea can be used when the following requirements are met:

  • Protected/inhibited fertilisers containing urea can only be applied within any product use-by/best before dates.
  • Protected/Inhibited fertilisers containing liquid urea can be applied with the prescribed rate of protector/inhibitor for this application and within and within any product use-by/best before dates.
  • Unprotected/inhibited liquid fertiliser containing urea can only be applied between 15 January and 31 March.
  • Unprotected/inhibited solid fertiliser containing urea can only be applied between 15 January and 31 March.
  • Unprotected/uninhibited liquid fertiliser containing urea can be applied between 1 April and last application in autumn only if agronomic justification is provided by FACTS-qualified farm personnel or advice specific for the crop has been provided by a FACTS-qualified Adviser and been followed.

In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, fertiliser containing urea (solid and liquid) can be applied as per relevant legislation.

It's important to note that liquid urea can be used without an inhibitor after 1 April where agronomic justification has been provided by FACTS-qualified farm personnel or advisers, though such justifications are limited and the farm personnel or adviser must be on the FACTS Professional Register – this means they must have accumulated sufficient CPD points each year since obtaining the original qualification. 

They can provide the following justifications: 

  • Liquid fertiliser is incorporated by injection or within 48 hours of application by irrigation or cultivations; or
  • liquid fertiliser formulations that are targeted at foliar uptake by the use of ag-chem nozzles, in accordance with their application recommendations.

While these justifications are effective alternatives to inhibitors, they are intended as a guide for making decisions and, depending on local circumstances, FACTS qualified and updated farm personnel and advisers may also take factors like surface soil moisture, crop cover, and soil type into account, although these factors may be less effective in reducing ammonia emissions and the use of an appropriate inhibitor may be more beneficial in reducing nitrogen loss.

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