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Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Volume 473: debated on Thursday 13 March 2008

9. What recent estimate he has made of the costs to farmers arising from the nitrate vulnerable zones regime in England. (193659)

If nitrate vulnerable zones were extended to cover 70 per cent. of England, the expected costs to industry could be up to £105 million per annum. However, actual costs could be lower depending on how the proposals are implemented.

Does the Minister accept that 5,000 dairy farms may need to improve their slurry storage to comply with the NVZ action plan that DEFRA has proposed? What consideration is he giving to making the proposals much fairer by being more sensitive to individual farm circumstances and helping farmers comply through giving them a more realistic timetable to meet the regulations, easing planning restrictions and perhaps even providing some limited financial assistance?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is lots and lots and lots. The proposals in the action plan are for consultation. We have received a large amount of correspondence from Members on both sides of the House and there has been a Select Committee inquiry. We are looking at the proposals to consider how we can both fulfil our obligation under the nitrates directive and ensure that we move forward positively, given the representations that have been made.

Weather conditions over the past week or so have shown how difficult it is to limit slurry spreading to a short period of the year. Can the Minister tell me whether he has got anywhere in his discussions with the European Union about a derogation for UK dairy farmers? That crucial question will ease the plight of many farmers in my constituency.

I would not want to give false hope—that would be irresponsible—but we are working very hard. On the second point that the hon. Gentleman makes, it is too early to say yet. On the first point, he is right: of course, changing weather patterns that are coming about perhaps as a result of climate change—this is a 1991 directive—may change the way in which we have to do things.