Farmers facing ban on fertilisers

ARABLE farmers in the Borders face a ban on fertilisers and pesticides on sloping land near water.

Scottish Government officials propose halting the use of the additives on ground with a gradient of 12 degrees or more, unless there is at least a 10 metre wide strip of land between the crops and surface water.

NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said: “A ban on the use of fertilisers and pesticides on this land could have a drastic impact on agricultural productivity and food security.”

Farming leaders are to meet with Scottish Government officers to urge them to find a better solution to diffuse pollution.

Mr Miller said: “The proposed changes take no account of the affect of weather, vegetation and application technology, among other factors, but instead focuses rather bluntly on the issue of slope. We have made these points in our submission and will raise them again when we meet with Scottish Government. Risk based and proportionate action on diffuse pollution, working hand in hand with farmers, has to be the priority here.”

Local MSP John Lamont has written to Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead raising concerns.

He said: “The proposed changes could see a substantial area of land coming out of crop production. Many farmers rely on being able to farm every acre of their land in order to be profitable, and they are understandably worried at the prospect of having productive land taken away from them. He (Lochhead) will have to take action to address these issues and ensure farmers across the Borders are not adversely affected.”

The Borders is a major grain producing area and the effects of the measure on the local economy could be significant, he said.

David Fuller. technical manager with Berwickshire agribusiness McGregor Farms estimates 10 to 15 percent of the 2,800 hectares the business farms would be affected if the new rules go through: “There would be patches of fields we couldn’t crop which would reduce our outputs and yields.”

He continued: “The proposed regulations are highly restrictive, especially in the Scottish Borders, because quite a lot of land that’s cropped is sloping to 12 degrees or more. It’s just putting more pressure on producers. The Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) rules (to keep nitrate levels in surface water down) are already very stiff for us compared to England.”

He is concerned too that at the current busy time of year arable farmers will struggle to respond within the short four-week consultation period: “It’s a distraction at a very busy time of year and difficult for people to respond fully.”

McGregor Farms’ director Colin McGregor is this year’s Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year.

He has told government officials: “We are active users of precision farming techniques which ensure fertiliser and agrochemicals are only applied where needed. To ban fertiliser applications on sloping fields will effectively take this land out of commercial production.

“Scotland is a net importer of wheat and this will only increase the deficit to the commercial advantage of the rest of the world and to the detriment of Scottish food manufacturers.

He describes the planned changes as “a very blunt piece of proposed regulation based on no apparent scientific basis”, adding: “I look forward to common sense prevailing and this proposal being rejected.”

The new rules are being put forward as a result of changes to European legislation.