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Consultation launches on licensing scheme to help famers implement water quality regulations

28 Nov 2022 3 minute read
Slurry spraying. Photo by wfmillar is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A 12-week consultation on the introduction of a licensing scheme allowing farmers to apply for a higher holding nitrogen limit under the Welsh Government’s Agricultural Pollution Regulations has been launched.

The Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths announced in October that up to £20m was being made available to help farmers meet the controversial new water quality regulations.

She also confirmed implementation of the 170kg/ha annual holding nitrogen limit on 1 January 2023 will be pushed back to April 2023 and that the consultation would be launched on a licensing scheme which would allow businesses to apply for a licence for a higher annual holding nitrogen limit of 250kg/ha subject to crop need and other legal considerations.

This proposed licensing scheme is part of the package of measures the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru agreed in October to progress the implementation of the Co-operation Agreement commitment on agricultural pollution.

Farming groups in Wales have lobbied extensively on the water quality regulations and encouraging farmers to play an active role in the consultation.

Legal challenge

In March the High Court dismissed a legal challenge from NFU Cymru against the regulations introduced last year, which effectively make the whole of Wales a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) and introduced closed periods for slurry spreading.

Farmers said the rules were “unworkable” and posed a significant threat to the economic viability of Welsh farming but Judge, Sir Wynn Williams said the Welsh Government had not acted unlawfully in making the regulation.

NFU Cymru estimated the new measures have created up-front costs of around £360m and ongoing yearly costs of £ Wales and are encouraging farmers to play an active role in the 12-week consultation.

Responding to the consultation announcement, NFU Cymru said it would analyse the licensing proposals in detail and consult with members before formally responding.

Aled Jones, the union’s president, said: “The 170kg/ha limit acts as a de-facto stocking limit on Welsh farms, with wider concerns for how this could affect Welsh farming’s productive capacity.

“The extent to which this licensing system addresses our concerns will be a matter for us to consider with our members over the consultation period.

“It is crucial that these regulations do not impinge on the sector’s ability to feed the nation with healthy, sustainable climate friendly food now and in the years ahead.

“Given the importance of these regulations and the proposed licensing scheme, I’d encourage every farmer to look closely and think carefully about how the licensing system might support their farming business going forward.”

Phase two of the regulations will come into force in January 2023 and require farmers to take additional action to reduce pollution and improve water and air quality.

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