Spreading in the closed period

The Ulster Farmers' Union is aware of the severe pressure that farmers across Northern Ireland are under with the slurry spreading deadline looming.

Union staff have been inundated with calls from members who are struggling to get silage and crop cut and slurry out with the poor weather and challenging ground conditions. The UFU recognises the extreme pressure that local farmers are under and have raised this with DAERA and NIEA.

However, there is flexibility within the Nitrates Action Programme which caters for exceptional circumstances when farmers cannot fully comply with the rules, through no fault of their own which will help those farmers who are struggling currently.

A general extension to the closed period is not a realistic option for Northern Ireland

Due to legal reasons this cannot be applied in Northern Ireland. There is a risk that European auditors would impose fines if there was not clear legal cover.

The EU Commission have also highlighted that they extend the storage requirements for NI farmers if farmers are continually struggling to comply with the closed period. The current Nitrates Action Programme review starts autumn 2017 and the EC will be closely scrutinising all aspects of the existing rules.

ufu secured ‘reasonable excuse’ clause for


In 2005/06 during negotiations with the Department and the EC, the UFU secured the inclusion of the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause in the Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme. This caters for exceptional conditions, when farmers cannot fully comply with the rules, through no fault of their own. This clause has since had to be used in years when weather and ground conditions made compliance impossible.

Farmers who are forced to spread when conditions are not suitable may be able to use the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause. This also allows farmers on a case by case basis to spread beyond 15 October if reasonable excuse can be shown.

We would strongly urge farmers to proceed with caution and ensure they have exhausted every other appropriate avenue for dealing with slurry. This does however offer more flexibility than a time-bound extension to the dates.

The “reasonable clause” should be used as a last resort and it would be advisable to speak with your UFU Technical Officer or the UFU’s Environment Policy Officer, Aileen Lawson. The UFU reasonable excuse template is available to UFU members from UFU HQ or local offices.

Steps to take before spreading in the closed period

l Before spreading during the closed period, NIEA would expect farmers to take all reasonable steps to manage the situation. In assessing whether a farmer has taken “all reasonable steps” NIEA would consider a number of factors including:

l Has the farmer met the minimum legal requirements for slurry storage i.e 26 weeks livestock manure storage capacity for pig and poultry enterprises and 22 weeks for other enterprises?

l Has slurry been properly managed outside the closed period and has been spread as appropriate when conditions permitted?

l Is clean storm water, e.g. roof water, diverted away from slurry tanks?

l Has the farmer exhausted reasonable alternatives such as renting extra storage space or using straw bedding?

l Has the farmer taken additional steps to protect against water pollution such as increasing distance spread from watercourse, spread on flatter fields etc?

l Has the farmer only spread the minimum necessary to provide sufficient capacity to help manage until the end of the closed period?

Do I need to register if I am going to spread

during the closed period?

It is NOT a requirement to ‘register’ with NIEA/DAERA to use a ‘reasonable excuse’. Neither is it a requirement to ‘notify’ of intended slurry spreading during the closed period.

What happens if NIEA are required to inspect a farm which has been spreading organic

manures during the closed period?

If it comes to the attention of NIEA that a farmer has spread slurry over the closed period, NIEA officers will do the following:

i. Visit the farm in question

ii. Check for evidence of water pollution arising from the spreading

iii. Ascertain the circumstances (mainly via paperwork) that led to the farmer spreading slurry or manure during the closed period (“reasonable excuse”). UFU can assist with this.

iv. Confirm the evidence that the farmer had taken all reasonable steps to manage the situation, and had no alternative. Such evidence would include that the farmer had sufficient slurry storage under normal conditions, and had been properly managing slurry outside the closed period. Clean storm water, e.g. roof water should be diverted from slurry tanks.

Check if slurry spreading to land had been done responsibly and that the farmer had adhered to conditions in the Nitrates Action Programme 2015-18. In addition, it will be expected that slurry had been spread on low risk land and that additional steps had been taken to protect watercourses. It would also be expected that farmers would not totally empty tanks – they should only remove enough slurry to provide adequate containment for immediate needs.

UFU would recommend that farmers have all nitrates paperwork in order, and complete the UFU reasonable excuse template. Having dated photos of ground conditions, showing full tanks and rainfall data would be beneficial.

Is there a spreading

deadline under these

‘reasonable excuse’


No, there is no deadline for the spreading of slurry under this clause. The important issue is that a farmer can prove exceptional circumstances and ‘reasonable excuse’ (through records) and that slurry is managed responsibly to avoid potential animal welfare and water pollution problems.

How do I record the information required?

To be able to rely on the ‘reasonable excuse’, if inspected, a farmer MUST provide a record of evidence showing that they had taken all reasonable steps to manage the situation and had no alternative other than to spread during the closed period. The UFU has a template form which is available at UFUHQ or local Group Offices which can be used by members.

UFU assistance

The UFU is encouraging any farmers who plan to spread during the closed period, to carefully fill out the UFU template provided and to provide as much information as possible and to take additional precautions when spreading to ensure no pollution will be caused. Any UFU member who needs to discuss further or help with the records element should contact Aileen Lawson at UFU HQ or their local UFU Technical Officer. DAERA also have a helpline in operation.