Northern Ireland relaxes slurry-spreading rules due to recent weather conditions

"If a farmer has reasonable cause to spread after the end of the season, the farmer will be able to spread"
"If a farmer has reasonable cause to spread after the end of the season, the farmer will be able to spread"

Farmers in Northern Ireland can apply for a slurry-spreading extension due to the recent soggy weather.

Environment and Rural Affairs, Michelle McIlveen said she understood the difficulties caused by the recent wet weather, including increased costs associated with worsening land conditions and housing of animals earlier than usual.

She acknowledged that farmers faced increased difficulties with getting machinery onto land and that the weather also affected silage and arable crop harvesting and the emptying slurry of tanks before the deadline for the closed period.

Miss McIlveen said: "I understand that the recent wet weather has created difficult circumstances for farmers – especially in the north and west.

UFU welcomes clarity on slurry spreading
UFU welcomes clarity on slurry spreading

"I am aware that a number of calls have been made for farmers to be granted a dispensation to spread slurry during the closed period which comes into force on midnight on Saturday 15 October.

"While there is no legal provision in the Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) Regulations Northern Ireland (2014) to grant a complete waiver, I want to make it clear that under exceptional circumstances, beyond the control of and not foreseeable by an individual farmer, a defence may be made for non-compliance with some of the requirements of the NAP Regulations including spreading organic manures during the closed period.

"I believe that the challenges faced by some farmers over recent months as a result of high rainfall and the severe winter conditions in 2015 have been exceptional.

"Therefore where a farmer has reasonable cause to spread after the end of the season, the farmer will be able to spread.

'Many fields are saturated'

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed clarity from Miss McIlveen.

UFU president Barclay Bell has been visiting farmers affected and has seen firsthand the difficulties they are facing.

"Many fields are saturated," Mr Bell said, "farmers haven’t been able to cut silage or crops or even get machinery into a field and this is having a knock-on effect.

"That is why this clarity on exceptional circumstances from the minister is so welcome," said Mr Bell.

The UFU is however urging farmers to use the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause with caution, stressing that spreading slurry during the closed period must be a last resort.

"Farmers must be able to prove they the exhausted all other options for emptying tanks and they must have all their nitrates paperwork in order.

"Having photos or videos of ground conditions and rainfall data would also be beneficial," said Mr Bell.

Weather forecasts are suggesting a short term stretch of good weather which will ease the pressure for some farmers.

"However, come the deadline date, should a farmer still find themselves in a difficult position because of weather conditions they can then consider using the reasonable excuse clause," said Mr Bell.