Farming land management: Fertiliser and manure use

Fertilisers and manures are used to replenish the nutrient balance in soils. However, there are number of voluntary and statutory controls to ensure that while the balance is maintained the risk of pollution is minimised.

There are five key issues surrounding the use of fertilisers and manures:

Fertiliser policy: safety, import and export

Controls exist on the import and export of fertilisers. Full details on these can be found in the fertiliser import and fertiliser export sections of the Defra website.

Further information can be found in the fertilisers section covering legislative responsibilities under EC Regulations and domestic law and the voluntary scheme to provide traceability and assurance along the whole production and distribution chain - The Fertiliser Industry Assurance Scheme (FIAS).

The Agricultural Industries Federation (AIC) has published codes of good practice, guidelines for fertiliser use and a series of product data safety sheets for farmers and advisors. Links to each of these are available on the farmers and advisors section of the AIC website.

The capacity of vehicles, handling and spreading equipment must be compatible with the weight being carried. Methods of ensuring this are outlined in the information sheet Fertilisers: handling big bags from the AIC.

Farmers should also ensure the security of fertiliser storage on farm. This is particularly important in the light of recent terrorist threats. Again the AIC provides a series of information sheets on the health and safety aspects of fertiliser use

Fertiliser and manure management

The most commonly used fertiliser nutrients are nitrogen, phosphate, potash, sulphur and magnesium with lime also widely used to correct soil acidity.

National standards for fertiliser use are outlined in the document Fertiliser Recommendations for Agricultural and Horticultural Crops (RB209).

The aim is to maximise the economic return from the use of fertilisers while at the same time minimising the risk of nutrient pollution.

The PLANET Nutrient Management software provides a computerised, interactive version of these recommendations.

The British Survey of Fertiliser Practice annual reports provide an assessment of the fertiliser use for England & Wales, and for Scotland. The main purpose of the survey is to estimate average application rates of nitrogen, phosphate, potash, used for agricultural crops and grassland. The BSFP additionally provides information on applications of sulphur fertilisers, organic manures and lime.

Information about managing manures is available from the MANNER (Manure Nitrogen Evaluation Routine) Decision Support System.

To help you make the most of manures, a series of three ‘Managing Livestock Manures’booklets has been produced.

The Potash Development Association can provide advice on soil fertility, plant nutrition and fertiliser use with particular emphasis on potash.

Minimising pollution

The Codes of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Air, Water and Soil provide practical guidance to help you avoid causing pollution and to protect soil as a valuable resource.

Under the Water Resources Act 1991, it is an offence to pollute water which may lead to a maximum fine of £20,000 in a magistrates court, or even more severe sentences in the higher courts.

In addition, the Control of Pollution (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) Regulations 1991 sets minimum standards for the construction of new or improved manure stores.

These standards can also apply to existing stores if the Environment Agency believes they pose a significant risk of pollution.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, local authorities may consider offensive smells to be a statutory nuisance.

Cross compliance

If you are signed up to the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) you must meet certain Cross-compliance standards regarding fertiliser use to receive payment.

These standards include the requirement to obtain Defra approval before increasing applications of fertiliser, farmyard manure or calcified seaweed on uncultivated land or semi-natural areas.

Manure or slurry must generally not be applied or stored on SPS eligible land which is not in agricultural production except in preparation for a following crop (up to a maximum of two months before sowing).

However, you may be able to apply fertiliser to this land if you satisfy the Rural Payments Agency that the land is in an area known to be used as a feeding area by geese and is managed as such an area.

Fertiliser or manure must not usually be applied within two metres of the centre of a hedgerow or watercourse. This rule also applies to all land within one metre of the top of the bank of a watercourse.

Cross-compliance requires that farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones apply Action Programme measures.

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Farmers located in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) are required to apply Action Programme measures to reduce nitrate leaching.

It is a farmer’s responsibility to check whether they farm land within an NVZ and you can check by using special NVZ maps available online. Defra has a dedicated webpage detailing help for farmers in NVZs.

Available advice includes Guidelines for farmers in NVZs and a Manure management plan outlining steps that must be taken.

Useful contact details

  • Defra helpline – 08459 33 55 77
  • Environment Agency – 08708 506 506
  • Agricultural Industries Confederation – 01733 385230
  • Potash Development Association – 01904 492009

Page last modified: 31 March 2010
Page published: 1 July 2006