Spreading organic manures and the EA’s Farming Rules for Water

In 2018 the Environment Agency, (EA), released The Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations. The purpose of which is to ensure the spreading of organic manures is done so with minimal pollution risk. As far as legislative documents go, it genuinely had all the right intentions. I mean in a world where climate change is starting to have serious implications for humankind, anything we can do to reduce emissions and prevent pollution has to be considered a good thing. 

For those of you unsure about climate change and those that still require proof of its existence, the IPCC report released recently is a good place to start. The report clearly highlights the impact we, as humans, are having on the environment and how difficult it is going to be to reverse the damage already done. That’s why a document like The Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations is so important. 

The IPCC report on Climate Change 2021

The report released by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) doesn’t directly point the finger at Agriculture but it certainly doesn’t absolve land owners either. It rightly highlights the increase in average air and sea temperatures as well as the increased likelihood of extreme weather events from one in every 50 years to one in ten. 

Farmers, who are well versed in all matters meteorological, should not be surprised by this report. They have been dealing first hand with everything from record rainfalls to record droughts for several years now. Climate change and these extreme weather events are just another variable to consider in the yearly cycle that is Agriculture. 

Agriculture steps up – again

The UK is considered a leading voice in the world of Agriculture, as it is in tackling climate change too. Although Agriculture isn’t solely to blame for global warming, it is one of the few industries that can reverse the damage it has done as well as reversing some of the damage caused by other industries.

One such way Agriculture can help reverse Climate Change is by “carbon drawndown”. The term now famous worldwide, thanks to the Netflix documentary, Kiss The Ground. If Agriculture can increase soil organic matter (SOM) then it will be removing carbon from the atmosphere to help reduce and even reverse the effects of global warming.

The Soil

The soil, which is the foundation upon which every farming enterprise is built, has the ability to store carbon and we aren’t talking about a little bit of carbon either. If Agriculture can raise the SOM by just 1% then every single hectare (100m x 100m square) could hold an additional 40,000kgs of carbon. To put that into perspective, you would have to drive your average Ford Focus around the world eight times to emit close to 40,00kgs CO2.

There are a number of ways in which the SOM can be increased. Some of the most popular are cover cropping, min / no-till, the introduction of livestock or the application of organic manure onto the soil. All of these can help build SOM, which not only reduces atmospheric carbon but also improves soil structure, soil biology, microbial diversity, water holding capacity and filtration, the list is almost endless. 

The Environment Agency (EA) and their Farming Rules for Water (FRfW)

Given our ever increasing understanding of the chemical, physical and biological effects our farming methods have on the environment, the latest Regulatory Position Statement (RPS) released by the EA was, I feel, an opportunity missed. 

The EA, by restricting applications of organic manure with their Farming Rules for Water, are limiting our ability to increase SOM, store carbon and improve soil health. Which ironically, is something the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs) is keen to encourage. On one hand farmers are being encouraged to increase SOM and improve soil health, yet, on the other they are having restrictions placed upon them achieving exactly that.

Although the intentions of these rules are undeniably good they once again leave farmers not knowing what to do for the best. Spreading organic manures in the Autumn is effectively banned yet there are many benefits of doing so. The storing of FYM during the autumn and winter months is more of a pollution risk than actually applying it. Slurry, however, is a different matter and I hope the limitations placed on FYM are not because of slurry. 

Waste not, want not

The new rules offer yet another new challenge to farmers to overcome but they do have options. If farmers consider their organic manures as the valuable soil improvers that they are then these rules are less of a hinderance and more of a kick up the backside. 

Putting in place infrastructure to handle organic manures should be as important as building a shed to house livestock, feed, fertilisers, chemicals or seeds. Spreading organic manures and the storage / handling of such are as important as any of these yet still treated as waste. Waste only becomes waste when it is thrown away. If organic manures are handled correctly they can be valuable assets that make the difference between a struggling farming enterprise and a profitable one.