A consultation paper, published by Defra, has revealed that as much as 70% of farmland in England could be designated as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) in an
attempt to reduce water pollution from agricultural sources, farming leaders have warned.
Farmers within these zones would be required to follow an action programme aimed at controlling when, where, how and in what amount nitrogen is applied to land. Failure to comply with these measures could lead to deductions from the single farm payment.
The National Farmers' Union is concerned that the huge costs of meeting these requirements are not justified and the union is calling for a "detailed and rigorous review" of the government's proposals.
"I am all for farmers reducing their impact on the environment, but we must ensure that affected farms are given time to adapt and can remain a viable business," said NFU president Peter Kendall.
"The NFU is prepared to work closely with Defra on this issue and we will be seeking substantial changes to the action programme and a package of assistance that will help farmers meet the demanding requirements of the directive."
The main changes the NFU will be asking for include a continuation of the derogation from the whole farm manure limit of 170kgN/ha per calendar year, so larger amounts can be applied where it is safe to do so.
One solution could come in the form of innovative alternatives, such as anaerobic digestion, which would allow farmers to comply with the new regulations, and make a positive environmental contribution.