NFU Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to focus on the science before bringing forward changes to the Action Programme that producers in Scotland’s Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) are obliged to comply with.

With 14 percent of Scotland’s agricultural land covered by existing NVZ legislation, the Union accepts the need for farming to play its part in addressing high levels of nitrates when they are identified in the water environment. However, the current Action Programme, and the recently consulted on changes, fail to deliver on either water quality or farm business health.

Prior to formulating its response to the Scottish Government consultation, NFUS held open meetings in areas affected by NVZ designation. The consultation did not consider changes to the areas in Scotland designated as NVZs – that will start later in 2012 – but it did propose a number of potentially significant changes to the NVZ rules.

These included extending the closed periods for slurry, sewage sludge, and anaerobic digestate by up to a month on anything other than sandy or shallow soils. At the same time, it looked at higher nitrogen efficiency values for certain slurries and manures. This would impact on the Nmax calculations that affect the types of fertilisers that can be applied to a crop, and potentially limit total application.

NFU Scotland Vice President John Picken said:

"NFU Scotland supports the principle of encouraging farmers to make the best use of slurries and manures to reduce fertiliser costs and protect the environment. We continue to argue for a more risk-based and proportionate approach to closed periods, taking account of local circumstances.

"We have also made the case for a reduction in the closed period for those on sandy and shallow soils and in the driest parts of the country. A similar proposal is currently under consideration for England, and NFU Scotland wants to ensure that Scottish farmers are not disadvantaged compared to their English counterparts.

"We are strongly opposed to the proposed changes to the nitrogen efficiency values. The proposed values are hugely inflated and not supported by research on Scottish circumstances. In fact, industry guidance to farmers from SAC indicates that the proposed values could only be achieved under limited circumstances.

"In bringing forward its proposal, it would appear the Scottish Government runs the risk of ignoring the recommendations of Scottish experts taking into account Scottish conditions, and instead is concerned primarily with placating the European Commission. NFU Scotland considers this both unjustifiable and a worrying undermining of the already controversial scientific credentials of the NVZ Action Programme.

"Whilst we agree with the aim of encouraging farmers to apply slurries and manures in the most efficient way and at the most appropriate time possible, this aim has to be balanced against the agronomic and economic realities of Scottish agriculture.

"NFU Scotland is particularly disappointed to see that the Scottish Government is trying to undermine the 2011 decision of the Land Court regarding NVZ yield adjustments. The Land Court gave an unequivocal judgement that the European Nitrate Directive delivers environmental protection without the need for gold plating at a national level. The Land Court’s decision did not support the Scottish Government’s current interpretation, and now the Scottish Government appears to be changing the rules to fit its view – a short-sighted reaction to a far-sighted decision.

"In our submission, we have made several positive proposals on how to improve matters for those farmers situated in NVZ areas, without compromising environmental protection. The burden of record keeping is counter-productive and fosters a perception that NVZs are a bureaucratic life-sentence, rather than a proportionate and responsive way to deal with a problem of shared significance. We have made suggestions on how the paperwork burden can be lessened, particularly for those with low intensity farms.

"We also believe that if the NVZ Action Programme focused on the keeping of records that are essential for ensuring environmental protection, there would be a better appreciation amongst the farming community of shared benefits of minimising nitrate pollution. As it stands at the moment, the burden of record keeping for farmers in the NVZs often obscures their appreciation of this fact.

Notes to Editors

A copy of NFU Scotland’s submission is available on request.


The Land Court judgement: Ninewells limited v the Scottish Ministers: "Whether farmer in Nitrate Vulnerable Zone entitled to make additional applications of nitrogen based on yield data from comparable farms" can be found at


SAC technical note "Optimising the Application of bulky organic fertilisers" is available at:




Date Published:

News Article No.: 64/12

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