Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Pay farmers to improve slurry storage facilities, says report

January 2, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

Farmers could be paid to improve slurry stores, suggests an independent review which recommends a new regulator for UK agriculture.

Half the slurry systems on farms are thought to be inadequate, says the report. To reduce pollution risks, government ministers should consider financial incentives to farmers with poor or insufficient slurry storage facilities, it adds.

“Poor or insufficient slurry storage is an emerging issue,” the report warns. “Older tanks are breaking down. We are aware that there will be other emerging issues, and positive trends as well, but these are not systematically quantified or evaluated across farming as a whole.”

The Farm Inspection and Regulation Review recommends that the government establishes a new independent regulator to oversee the sector. As well as streamlining the current inspection process, it would offer farmers practical advice, guidance and help to incentivise good practice.

High standards

Local advisers would visit farmers to discuss issues such as biosecurity, soil quality or animal welfare, rather than turning up to impose an automatic sanction. In other words, the regulator would work with farmers rather then telling them what to do to ensure high standards.

Improving slurry storage systems is seen as a key part of this. So too are issues around the provision of other environmental benefits – which will be a major plank of government policy for farming as direct payments are phased out after Brexit.

The report, which was commissioned by Defra secretary Michael Gove last year, also recommends better use of technology. It says satellites and drones could monitor field margins to make sure farmers are providing the environmental benefits they are contracted to deliver.

A move towards remote surveillance would make inspections more efficient for the regulator and less burdensome for the farmer, says the report. The new system would come into effect as the government introduces its post-Brexit policies for agriculture.

Responsible farmers

Dame Glenys said: “As things are, farmers are subject to a number of pernickety and sometimes nonsensical rules. There is little practical advice or guidance given to ensure compliance. Instead, automatic financial penalties have become the norm when at times they are unfair.”

Most farmers wanted to farm responsibly but some needed guidance, advice and support.

“A regulator should provide that , and explain why any change on the farm is needed,” said Dame Glenys. “Yes, sometimes swingeing sanctions are justified, but more often, more is achieved by a more supportive approach.”

The report says: “We recommend the government considers grants or guaranteed loans to redress poor or inadequate slurry storage. It should also consider whether there is a case for other infrastructure projects to be given priority and incentivisation.”

It adds: “The regulator should advise the government of the harms that can be addressed realistically only through financial incentives – and the scale of the problem.”

The government is expected to respond to the report in the coming weeks.

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