No spread zones

Surface water is very sensitive to nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen. Natural concentrations in lakes, ponds, rivers and streams usually are very low and a small increase can trigger a change in the species balance to favour plants that can grow and reproduce rapidly - especially algae. These smother other plants and deplete oxygen when they die and decompose. There are resulting costs to fish stocks and biodiversity, in some cases for additional drinking water treatment and to the farm for wasted nutrients. So it’s not surprising that keeping nutrients out of water is a priority.

Nitrogen and phosphorus can get into water in several ways - leaching from soil, run-off of manures or fertiliser, erosion of soil particles, even over-spreading directly into the water. Much of the action takes place close to the water’s edge so this is where practices need to be good and where rules apply. NVZ rules and cross compliance GAEC 1 are the same for most applications:

  • Don’t apply manufactures nitrogen within 2 metres of surface water
  • Don’t apply organic manure (which includes livestock manure, digestate, compost etc) within 10 metres of surface water
  • Don’t apply organic manure within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole

There is an additional rule in cross compliance that no manufactured fertiliser of any type or lime can be applied within 2 metres of the centre of a watercourse or field ditch or to land from the edge of the watercourse or ditch to 1 metre from the top of the bank. ‘Watercourse’ includes dry or blind ditches in both NVZ and cross compliance rules. From January, these rules will apply in cross compliance to all land next to water courses, including parcels of 2ha or less. The ten metres no-spread zone for organic manures can affect nutrient supply to a significant area of crop so it’s worth looking at precision equipment such as shallow injection (no more than 10cm depth), dribble bars, trailing hose or trailing shoe to reduce the zone to 6 metres.

Then there’s the issue of records, one of the most common causes of non-compliance.

Nobody likes paperwork but really this is one of the rules most easily met. It’s best to assume an outsider will think ‘If it isn’t recorded, it wasn’t done’. If you spread organic manures, the main record for no-spread zones is the risk map and one done for NVZ purposes will also meet cross compliance needs. Amongst other things this must show:

  • all surface waters (e.g. streams or ponds) and land within 10 metres of them
  • all springs, wells and boreholes on your land or within 50 metres of the boundary of your land
  • all land within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole

Producing the map is not a one-off exercise, it must be updated within three months of any change.

There are two other requirements in cross-compliance for these zones alongside watercourses:

  • Don’t cultivate within 2 metres of the centre of a watercourse or field ditch or to land from the edge of the watercourse or ditch to 1 metre from the top of the bank
  • Take all reasonable steps to maintain green cover within this zone

These are minimum, not average, distances from the watercourse and non-compliance even on a short stretch will be clearly visible.

All these rules seem complicated but the aim is simple - to keep phosphorus and nitrogen out of surface water. Where this is done, farming and clean water get along fine. Where it isn’t, there can be a mess.

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