The Ulster Farmers' Union and NI Agricultural Producers' Association have welcomed the Environment Minister's advice that farmers may, on an individual basis, spread slurry beyond the 15 October deadline set in the Nitrates Action Programme, if absolutely necessary and if they can record 'reasonable circumstances' why they were unable to meet the slurry spreading rules.
There is no exact definition of these circumstances but advice will be available from the farm organisations.
NIAPA chairman Michael Clarke said that the announcement should concentrate producers' minds on their own situation.
A delegation from NIAPA emphasised to the Minister the need to be clear and, indeed, that all press coverage would need to point out that this was not an extension of the period for spreading slurry and that farmers would need to be fully aware of the circumstances under which they could avail of an opportunity to land spread.
NIAPA advises those who need to avail of exceptional circumstances that they need to be able to prove, if inspected, that they fulfil all the criteria for doing so and that in no way are they in breach of cross compliance, thus leaving their business open to possible penalties.
The UFU has been in discussions with DARD and DOE, outlining the problem which farmers face.
Farmers who genuinely will be unable to get their slurry out before the closed period starts now have the option of delaying their work until the weather and ground conditions improve.
However, farmers must document the reasons why they delayed slurry spreading beyond the 15 October deadline as this documentation may be required later.
Union president Harry Sinclair said that the UFU can assist members with this process.
Sinclair added: "European Commission officials have clearly outlined that they have concerns with our current rules, particularly spreading in February and have stated that they will be monitoring spreading practices and water quality data for the next four years.
''It is vital that local farmers act responsibly when spreading slurry to give the EC no excuse to strengthen the current rules.
''Brussels will be keeping a close eye on compliance with the closed period this year and may even demand extra storage across all farms in the future if we are continually struggling to comply.
''The industry cannot afford to have restrictions in February or additional storage requirements imposed and we must all act responsibly to avoid giving the European Commission any excuse to curtail our industry further," Sinclair said.
Farming News Daily Supporting British Pig Farmers