The Government has slurry in its sights. From how it is applied to the fields, through to how it is stored, farmers now need to think carefully about how to cut the threat of pollution from slurry.
A priority for some farmers will be upgrading their existing slurry storage to ensure they have adequate storage capacity, which will require significant investment.
The good news is that the Government is launching a new Slurry Investment Scheme, that is offering farmers grants to upgrade their slurry storage infrastructure. While the programme is still being developed, a few details have now been released and in this blog I’ll look at the thinking behind the new slurry grants and what farmers can expect.
What are the slurry storage regulations?
Livestock farms across the UK produce millions of tonnes of slurry each year. This slurry is rich in nutrients and when used appropriately can help boost soil health and fertility.
However, if it isn’t properly managed, slurry can pose significant risks to the local environment through water and air pollution.
Under existing regulations, farmers must have the capacity to be able to store a minimum of four months of slurry at a time. The new slurry grants, which are part of the Farming Investment Fund, will be paid to new projects on the condition that they create six months of slurry storage.
It’s also worth remembering that, under the Clean Air Strategy, the Government has stated an ambition that all slurry must be applied with low emission spreading equipment by 2025, effectively banning splash plates, and that by 2027 all slurry/digestate stores must be covered.
Whilst slurry is a valuable resource, investment in new infrastructure can cost tens of thousands, and the pay back period is long and access to finance will be challenging. However, this is clearly an important issue and it’s right that Defra are working to provide financial assistance.
What do we know about the Slurry Investment Scheme?
Defra has just released a blog that offers a number of clues to what the Slurry Investment Scheme will look like when it is opened later this year. However, we need to treat the update with caution as the scheme is still under the co-design process – which we are part of.
Put simply, the slurry grants are all about storage. What we know so far is that, under the scheme, farmers will be able to apply for grants to upgrade their slurry storage to create six months capacity and to cover stores with impermeable covers.
This additional storage not only stops slurry being wasted or risking pollution but also helps farmers store this valuable resource, particularly as artificial fertiliser prices continue to soar.
The new information from Defra says the slurry grants can be used to replace existing stores, build additional storage facilities or expand existing compliant slurry storage equipment. It is also open to a variety of slurry storage systems, including slurry lagoons, steel and concrete ring tanks and rectangular concrete stores.
It is expected that, as the grants cover slurry stores with six-month capacity, farmers will be expected to be able to maintain that storage and if your herd size increases, you’ll need to take appropriate action in the future.
Any store that uses the grant funding will also have to be fitted with a cover. This is to meet the Government’s clean air ambitions but it also prevents rainwater from entering slurry stores.
Most importantly, the grant will cover up to half of the costs and awards will range from £25,000 to £250,000.
How do you apply for a slurry storage grant?
As I’ve said, the consultation process is still ongoing and we still don’t know when the scheme will open or the finalised details of the scheme.
We are expecting around 300 projects to receive funding in the first round but Defra have already said they are going to put more money into the scheme after seeing how the initial application round works.
We believe the Slurry Investment Scheme will be delivered as part of the Farming Transformation Fund. This will involve a two-stage process where farmers first express an interest and check their eligibility before then submitting a full application with all of the necessary information in stage two.
Demand will be high for this funding and Defra have said they will prioritise those with the biggest environmental benefits in the first round, which will mean those with projects near protected sites.
There will be multiple opportunities to apply for funding in future rounds but, for now, farmers can start preparing plans for their slurry stores, looking at type, how much space they’ll need, the location and, critically, checking if they need planning permission. By registering to receive the Defra email alerts, you will be sure to receive more information on the scheme when it is published.
When will the Slurry Investment Scheme open for applications?
There are still a number of hurdles to overcome before the first round of funding is made available but Defra are working closely with the agricultural community and across Government departments to overcome any issues.
One of the key issues to the objective of ensuring slurry storage is fit for purpose at every farm across the UK is going to be planning restrictions. We know from experience that planning is one of the main obstacles but Defra have recognised that and are speaking to planners to make sure the system is prepared for this.
It is these sort of details that Defra are still working on and they obviously need addressing if the scheme is to be a success.
At this moment, we don’t know when the Slurry Investment Scheme will open for applications but it should be in the autumn of this year.
We don’t expect to get much notice ahead of the fund opening. With the Farming Transformation Fund, we have continued to make requests for the Rural Payments Agency to release the guidelines for applying well in advance of the fund actually opening.
Slurry storage is an important issue and these grants will be critical in supporting farmers to invest in new facilities. If you would like support to explore how you can expand or upgrade your slurry storage infrastructure, speak to your CLA representative and they will be happy to answer any questions you have.