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Volume 409: debated on Friday 18 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the cost was of the British delegation's participation in the agriculture meetings in Paxos. [125643]

[holding answer 14 July 2003]: No British delegation has attended agriculture meetings in Paxos within the last six months.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to her answer of 19 June 2003, Official Report, column 358W, on agricultural shows, which (a) agricultural shows and (b) other rural events she has attended this year in her official capacity; and how many she plans to attend in the rest of the year. [124952]

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State visited a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) demonstration event at Leverhulme Farms in Cheshire on 3 March. On 24 March she opened a project public services to the rural community at the village of Waters Upton in Shropshire and she attended the Royal Show at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire on 30 June.The Secretary of State also spoke at events important to rural and agricultural communities such as the Oxford Farming Conference in January, the Local Government Association's Rural Renewal Conference on 11 February and the annual conference of the National Farmers Union on 18 February.My right hon. Friend receives a considerable number of invitations to agricultural shows and rural events. These are considered carefully, but the pressures on her diary are intense, including many meetings that relate directly to the interests of rural communities as well as the other demands of her wide-ranging portfolio.I and my fellow Ministers at Defra undertake visits to a variety of agricultural shows and rural events. In doing so we seek to make them useful working visits in which we meet a range of organisations and individuals and hear about their work and experience rather than attendance just for the sake of it.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the Government's policy is on the use of phosphates and nitrates in agriculture; and what action the Government is taking in regard to chemical run-off from farmland. [126727]

The Government's policy on the use of phosphates and nitrates is that they should be applied in accordance with good nutrient management practice, and in compliance with legal requirements. This ensures that the necessary quantities of nutrients are available when required for uptake by the crop and that losses to the environment are minimised. Defra supports the Fertiliser Advisers Certification and Training Scheme which trains and certifies people who advise farmers and growers on the appropriate use of fertilisers. Details on the optimum rate and timing for spreading phosphates and nitrates are contained within Defra booklet RB209 'Fertiliser Recommendations for Agricultural and Horticultural Crops'. Adoption of these recommendations helps to reduce the risk of applying more nutrients than the crop needs and thereby minimises the risk of run off. There is evidence that farmers are following these recommendations. Application rates of nitrogen, phosphate and the other major nutrient, potash have been lower in the past decade than in the 1980s, despite an increase in crop production.The statutory Water Code (Defra PB0587) provides further essential guidance on the use and handling of fertilisers to minimise the risk of nutrient losses to water. Farmers operating in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones are obliged to implement Action Programme Measures, which are based largely on the Water Code.Defra is currently undertaking a review of the problem of diffuse pollution of water by agriculture, to identify the most cost effective way to achieve further reductions in pollution to comply with the Water Framework Directive and safeguard conservation sites.In collaboration with the EA and industry, Defray is developing a software tool to provide nutrient management decision support for farmers and advisers. The first version of the tool should be available next year, both as a module of existing farm management software packages and as a free stand-alone version.The Government encourages the use of manure as a valuable fertiliser thus helping to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers. One of the ways in which this is done is through the availability of the MANNER (Manure Nitrogen Evaluation Routine) Decision Support System which helps farmers accurately predict the fertiliser nitrogen value of organic manures on a field specific basis.Defra agri-environment schemes such as Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) and the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) fund management options which involve the reduction of input levels to grassland and arable farming systems. They also contain options such as buffer strips which benefit resource protection. ESAs and CSS are currently being reviewed in consultation with partners with a view to introducing a new scheme in 2005. It is proposed that resource protection should be an important objective of the new scheme.In addition, Defra is currently piloting a new Entry Level Scheme which aims to introduce simple yet effective environmental measures across a wide area of farmland. The pilot scheme includes options to prepare nutrient and manure management plans and other on-farm management which will deliver resource protection benefits. Following an assessment of the pilot scheme we intend to draw up proposals to roll it out across England in 2005.