THE local farming community strives to be custodians of our countryside, looking after our water quality and
the environment. Spreading slurry is one of the high risk activities carried out on farms, which if not correctly managed can have a real adverse effect on our water quality.
Water quality monitoring of agricultural catchments has shown notable amounts of nutrients being transferred to waterways during the winter months and spreading season. Applications of manures in early autumn may remain vulnerable to storm run-off during the winter months.
Likewise, early applications of manure or slurry in February and March could also be at risk of run-off loss because of late winter/early spring storm events.
This year the ground conditions were poor in February with limited opportunity to spread slurry, so Water NI expects that there will be a lot of slurry spreading in March, creating a high-risk period for our rivers. Water NI asks everyone to think carefully before spreading slurry, or other organic manures, and follow all the guidelines carefully so that there is no risk of pollution to our watercourses.
From February 1, contractors spreading slurry have had to use Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE). Farmers should be aware that this is a requirement of the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) 2019-2022 and that the use of LESSE can benefit both the farmer and the environment.
LESSE allows the farmer to make better use of his slurry. Research has shown that spreading slurry using LESSE increases the amount of nitrogen available to the plant.
The increase in nitrogen avail-ability allows potential savings in chemical fertiliser as a greater percentage of the crop’s nutrient requirement is provided through slurry. The use of LESSE also allows increases in the window for spreading, as slurry can be spread into taller grass covers without dirtying the leaf.
LESSE benefits the environment by reducing nutrient losses, by placing nutrients closer to the plant roots, increasing nutrient uptake and reducing the risk of run off. Further benefits include a reduction in nitrogen loss to the atmosphere, as ammonia, and a reduced odour when spreading.
Nitrogen, found in our plants and soils, is a critical component of our agricultural system, with plant life being dependant on the nitrogen cycle to provide fresh farm produce from our local farms. However, if not managed correctly, nitrogen applications from farm slurry, in fields with potential areas of high nutrient loss to waterways, can impact on the quality of our watercourses.
Roy Taylor, NI Water Catchment Manager, says: “In order to min-imise the impact of slurry waste run-off into rivers and streams, NI Water encourages farmers to follow best practice and only spread slurry where land and weather conditions allow, always checking weather forecasts before spreading as rainfall could wash valuable nutrients off your land. Removing this from our water is difficult and expensive to treat in order to provide the high quality drinking water we all expect.”
NI Water works hard to deal with any slurry run-off into watercourses and can assure customers that tap water quality is unaffected and is of a very high quality standard. However, it would appeal to everyone to be vigilant and if you notice any water pollution please report it to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s (NIEA) 24/7 pollution hotline on 0800 807060.
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