Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA has called on DAERA to lift the ban on farmers spreading slurry in order to allow them to make use of the recent unusually mild and dry weather.
Robin Swann said:
“This is a classic example of why farming by dates or calendars simply doesn’t work. Whilst of course rarely would we be talking about spreading slurry in January, it's only because we’ve experienced such unseasonable conditions lately.
“I realise that as a result of the dry summer and decent autumn – which saw many cattle housed weeks later than normal - pressure on slurry storage isn’t actually too bad at present. But what happens if the weather turns and subsequent rain and waterlogged conditions run well into the spring? We can never be sure of Northern Ireland weather, especially so in recent times.
“My opinion is that it’s ridiculous that farmers are being forced to miss the current spreading opportunity simply because of regulations which failed to take into account the possibly of a dry and mild December and January.
“It’s especially frustrating as there is a noticeable growth in the grass at present, with even some farms grazing cattle in January for the first time in many years.
“What will make the situation even more frustrating for farmers locally is that even though the closed period isn’t set to end in Northern Ireland until the very end of the month, in parts of the Republic – due to how the different zone areas were created - it's due to be lifted this weekend.
“Whilst I appreciate that the recent weather is almost unprecedented, and something that is impossible for the DAERA to plan for or predict, I still believe that they must now show some flexibility.
“In recent years such as 2017, a shocking year of bad weather, they were able to act and farmers were allowed to spread slurry beyond the typical deadlines under the ‘reasonable excuse’ clause.
"In my opinion it’s time the slurry ban was scrapped totally and a new mechanism put in place. Indeed it’s something even a government commissioned report – the Northern Ireland Agricultural Land Management Strategy – hinted at in the end of 2016.
“It recommended that DAERA look into the viability of using technology for slurry application based on soil conditions, rather than just calendar dates.
“Frustratingly though, as a result of the current political impasse, that report – like so many others - has been left lying on a shelf. It’s just the latest example of why we either need an urgent restoration of the Executive, or failing that, why the UK Government should move quickly to introduce direct rule in Northern Ireland.”