With the end of the closed period in sight, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is encouraging farmers to use farm nutrients efficiently to ensure a maximum economic return can be realised and to reduce environmental impact to protect their single farm payment (SFP).

UFU environment policy chairman, John McLenaghan said: “Ground and weather conditions at this stage are difficult across Northern Ireland and therefore farmers should be cautious with their approach when spreading slurry in February.  While the closed period ends on the 31 January, the Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme also restricts spreading of manures at other times when conditions are unsuitable or where they spread too close to waterways.  Any farmer caught breaching these conditions could see their SFP penalised. Contractors should also be careful as they too can be held responsible in these circumstances as well.

“While there may be a temptation to spread slurry in early February, much of the local science developed by AFBI demonstrates that farmers are best waiting until soil temperatures increase before applying nutrients in order to obtain the best results from their slurry.  As many are aware farm gate margins have been extremely volatile over the past year with the difficult spring in 2013 leading to a welcome reprieve in the summer in autumn.  Applying nutrients efficiently therefore provides an excellent opportunity for farmers to control the level of inputs being applied on their farm and provides another option to minimise the impacts market volatility and weather can have on farm businesses.”

McLenaghan added: “Many farmers will have been soil sampling over the last few weeks to gauge the fertility of their land prior to the growing season.  This should form part of a farm nutrient management plan which can be followed throughout the year to ensure that both organic and chemical nutrients are applied at the correct time, in the fields that need it most and at an appropriate rate.  There is no doubt that a well organised farm nutrient management plan is a valuable tool which can help farms become more efficient by reducing reliance on imported expensive chemical fertilisers.”

The union has also highlighted the importance of the need to be cautious with the application of farm nutrients given the on-going review by the European Commission of the Nitrates Action Programme and water quality.

McLenaghan said: “Thus far farmers have risen to the challenge of complying with a complex programme and invested heavily in new infrastructure and technology within a relatively short period.  I would fully expect that as our industry evolves farmers will also continue to show a willing appetite for Rural Development Programmes schemes such as METS and agri-environment schemes which help to improve water quality and our rural environment.

“Indeed we would anticipate a high demand for Tranche 3 of METS in the current Programme as well, highlighting the importance of opening this scheme as soon as possible to increase the availability of nutrient efficient technology this spring.  Overall, it must be recognised that this is a long term process, and that water quality is improving but it important that we continue to comply and improve efficiency or we could risk introducing further regulation into our industry.”

Pictured UFU environment policy chairman, John McLenaghan