Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd
Through the Co-operation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, we committed to working with the farming community in the deployment of the Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021, to improve water and air quality, taking an approach targeted at those activities known to cause pollution. In October 2022, I issued a Written Statement on the package of measures the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru agreed in order to progress this commitment.
As part of this package of measures, and in response to particular concerns about the sector’s readiness for implementation of controls on the amount of nitrogen to be applied to the land from livestock manures, in November 2022, I issued a consultation on support and evidence for proposals for a time-limited licence scheme. The proposed scheme would enable farm businesses to apply for a licence for a higher annual nitrogen application of up to 250kg/ha, subject to crop need and additional environmental protection measures, until 2025.
Today I am publishing the summary of consultation responses and setting out the next steps, following careful consideration of all responses received.
Consultation responses showed high levels of support for a scheme, subject to any scheme being simple and straightforward for farm businesses to apply. There was broad acceptance in the support for a scheme of the principles of demonstrating the need for higher nutrient applications and for associated controls to mitigate potential environmental risks, consistent with the good reputation Welsh farming enjoys around the world for its high environmental and animal welfare standards.
Responses to the consultation also highlighted concerns about the potential effects on the environment of higher nutrient applications and the limitations placed on others as a result of pollution in our rivers and waterways.
The evidence on which the Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021 are based remains unchanged, with no new evidence presented in consultation responses.
Having regard to the consultation outcome, I have decided to proceed with a time-limited approach to enable higher applications of nutrients from livestock manures where there is a crop need to do so, alongside additional measures to protect the environment from risk of pollution. In recognition of the support in consultation responses for a simple and straightforward approach, I have also carefully considered the most suitable way to give effect to this decision.
I will bring forward amendments to the Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021 to implement an ‘Enhanced Nutrient Management Approach’ from 1 January 2024 to 31 December 2024. This will operate where there is a need for more than 170kg/ha nitrogen from livestock manures to be applied to the land.
Where nutrient management plans for 2024 indicate the annual rate of 170kg/ha nitrogen from livestock manures is likely to be exceeded, farm businesses must notify Natural Resources Wales by 31 March 2024 and undertake additional actions, consistent with the proposed licence conditions consulted upon, to minimise the risks associated with the additional application of manures to land. This approach replaces the proposed licence application process, whilst retaining the principles consulted upon and for which the consultation showed support.
The Enhanced Nutrient Management Approach will be implemented in two stages to give certainty to farmers and allow time for amending regulations to be prepared and laid before the Senedd.
The first stage is to lay regulations, which move the implementation date of the 170kg/ha holding limit of nitrogen from livestock manure and associated record keeping duties from 31 October 2023 to 1 January 2024. The first stage has been completed today. The second stage is to lay a further set of regulations before the Senedd which fully implements the Enhanced Nutrient Management approach and will include the details of the measures required. These regulations will be laid before 30 November 2023.
These new steps I am announcing today, under the Co-operation Agreement, represent further action towards our shared aim to significantly reduce pollution from agriculture, demonstrating our continued commitment to do so in partnership with the farming community to achieve lasting results.
In making this announcement today, I also reiterate our continued commitment to seeking the best mechanisms to address the impacts of agricultural activities on our water quality, including the potential of technology to reduce pollution risk and facilitate improvements, and continue to welcome proposals to deliver the outcomes we seek at any time. We will also undertake a further specific Regulatory Impact Assessment, as previously committed, considering the economic and environmental impacts of the 170kg/ha annual holding nitrogen limit, and continue to work with those who have proposed alternatives under regulation 45, to inform the 4-year review on the future deployment of the regulations which must be undertaken by 1 April 2025.