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Welsh slurry contractors say regulation is required on spreading

Minutes reveal advisor to Welsh government says only 1% of slurry stores he encountered was compliant with the legal requirements

I recently wrote a blog about the publication of the draft Water Resources (control of agricultural pollution) for Wales 2020. You can see that post here.

The publication of these regulations were met with at best a lukewarm reception and, at worst, outright hostility from both the farmers’ side and the conservationists’. Their gestation was a difficult one, with Lesley Griffiths, Welsh Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs swinging first one way, and then the other in an attempt to please both sides.

In the post, I mentioned the work of the sub-group on agricultural pollution on the Wales Land Management Forum, which aims to develop new ways of thinking, gathers and reviews evidence, and feeds into policy areas.

I said then: “The agenda and minutes for the sub-group have not been published since September 2019. It is now the middle of April 2020. I don’t know what is in those minutes, but it was an interesting period of the ‘will they / won’t they’ when it comes to the publication of these regulations, so I’ve put in a request to see them.”

Those minutes have now been published and the evidence given to the committee by agricultural contractors makes for some interesting reading. It is worth noting that according to the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, (NAAC) its members are responsible for 70% of slurry spreading in UK.

Regarding the testimony as given in the October 2019 minutes, one could be forgiven for thinking the anonymous contractors say nothing too remarkable. But there is an extraordinary entry in the November 2019 minutes regarding ‘Outstanding Action Points’ from that October meeting, and the evidence given by those anonymous agricultural contractors. Here it is in full:

“Chair reviewed the [October 23rd] draft minutes for accuracy with the following inclusions agreed by the Group:

“The Role of the Agricultural Contractor

1. Many farmers were not testing their slurry and were using it as a waste product.

2. Some farmers were spreading slurry in the period immediately before heavy rain with a view to it washing off. In support of this the agricultural contractor described refusing a contract to spread in anticipation of heavy rain only for another contractor to do the work. The agricultural contractor examined a nearby stream after the application to find it heavily contaminated with slurry.

3. Some farmers were not prepared to adapt to a changing climate.

4. Some fields were being repeatedly spread with slurry. Contractors would say that they are spreading on a whole farm basis when they were spreading on one field. This was due to there being insufficient storage or insufficient land upon which to spread.

5. They were of the opinion that regulation was required to create a level playing field for all farmers and contractors.”

This may come as no surprise to those familiar with the condition of many Welsh rivers in the dairy farming areas, but this is hard evidence given to a committee set up by Natural Resources Wales by agricultural contractors blowing a whistle on the behaviour of some of their peers, and it is down in black and white. The contractors were not named in the minutes to protect their identity.

Regarding evidence given by the Farming Connect Advisory Service, a highly experienced advisor who also is not named, is minuted as: “He stated that in the period of just over a year only one of a hundred [farm] inspections was SSAFO compliant.”

To quote from their website, the Farming Connect Advisory Service is a Government body which: “provides subsidised, independent, confidential and bespoke advice to farm businesses”. The Slurry, Silage and Agricultural Fuel Oil (SSAFO) are regulations governing (in this instance) the safe storage of slurry.

So to be clear, in the view of this highly experienced Farming Connect Advisor, only 1% of slurry stores he came across was compliant with these legal requirements.

Watch this space.

See the minutes here

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