‘Spreading organic manures on agricultural land’

The Farming Rules for Water (FRfW) were introduced in April 2018 to help protect water with standardising good farming practice. Many of the 8 rules duplicate NVZ and Cross Compliance regulations (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/rules-for-farmers-and-land-managers-to-prevent-water-pollution) Rule 1 is causing concern, particularly for those who use organic manures.

Rule 1 - states that: you must plan how much fertiliser or manure to use, so you do not use more than your crop or soil needs.

Planning nutrient requirements is done using the RB209 Nutrient Management Guide. rb209  or a FACTS qualified advisor.

This means you cannot spread fertiliser and manures where there is no crop requirement which is (dependant in the soil nutrient indices and the current crop) generally on soils with a phosphorus index of 3 and above and a Potassium index of 2- and above. Any field parcel which is chemically (organic manure or fertiliser applied in the last 3 years) or mechanically cultivated must also have up to date soil analysis  (no older than 5years).

Slurry and FYM are a valuable nutrient and organic matter resource. Emptying the store before the onset of winter housing  is a prerequisite for many to optimise available winter storage capacity. Under rule 1 for planning nutrient requirements in most circumstances there will be no requirement for autumn Nitrogen applications as arable crops with a permitted autumn N application are limited. Crops with an autumn N requirement include:

  • oilseed rape (where the soil nitrogen supply is 2 or less)
  • brassica fodder crops (established in early autumn)
  • and grassland where applications are permitted for a late cut of silage or for the autumn establishment of a temporary ley.

Many farms producing organic manures will not have adequate areas and/or crops to comply with Rule 1. 

In early August 2021, the Environment Agency released a Regulatory Position Statement (valid until 1st March 2022) to allow the spreading of organic materials even where a nutrient plan may show there is no crop need BUT a contingency plan needs to be in place to show there is a low-risk of water pollution from such an activity this includes runoff and the risks of nutrient leaching.

The biggest impact will be upon those livestock farms where routine applications of slurry and/or FYM are undertaken during the autumn/winter livestock housing period in order to manage storage capacities and potentially  arable farmers importing organic manures to apply to autumn sown crops.  If this is the case on your farm then you will need to contact the Environment Agency – and comply with the regulations under the Regulatory Position Statement RPS (valid until 1st March 2022).  


Does this new legislation affect you?

  • If you have sufficient land and crops that have a crop requirement for autumn/winter spreading you do not need to do a Regulatory Position Statement- But you will require a nutrient management plan showing crop requirements and planned nutrient inputs including nutrients applied in organic manures that show these do not exceed crop requirements.
  • If you cannot comply with the FRfW Rule 1 you will need to contact the EA and comply with the RPS. – this includes a contingency plan with a hierarchy of steps you must follow to avoid untimely spreading or excessive nutrient applications (see below).


You must show that options 1 to 4 in the following hierarchy are not feasible before you follow option 5.

  1. Store the organic manure at the place of production.
  2. Store the organic manure at the place of use.
  3. Send the organic manure to an off-site anaerobic digestion plant or other effluent treatment plant, including at a sewage treatment works.
  4. Store the organic manure off-site.
  5. Spread the organic manure on land with a low risk of leaching and run-off.’


Your contingency plan must show that using the Regulatory Position Statement is the only option and you MUST inform the EA you are using the RPS-252.


‘It must include field inspections to check if organic manure is getting into surface water or groundwater’.


How you must spread organic manure?

You must only spread organic manure:

  • on land with a low risk of leaching and run-off
  • at an application rate that allows no more than 5kg/ha of nitrate-nitrogen to be leached. (This will be affected by localised rainfall, soil type, organic manure type and application rate and method and timing of application, and cropping (green cover available to mop up N that will otherwise be leached below rooting depth) *
  • when the weather and ground conditions allow, as required by the farming rules for water

* You can calculate nitrogen use, efficiency and nitrogen losses, including nitrate-nitrogen using MANNER-NPK. You can download with instructions from Planet nutrient management http://www.planet4farmers.co.uk/Manner.aspx


Land with a low risk of leaching and runoff:

  • is not a sandy soil or a shallow soil, within the meaning of the Nitrate Pollution Prevention Regulations 2015
  • is not left bare over winter
  • is land with an average slope of less than 8 degrees, and the land’s drainage is not impeded (this means the soil is not compacted nor has a capped soil surface - the soil must be permeable and have a good structure)
  • is not a soil at field capacity above a land drainage system (other than sealed impermeable pipe) or shallow groundwater.
  • has not been pipe-drained, mole-drained or sub-soiled in the last 12 months
  • must not be within a designated groundwater source protection zone 1
  • must be at least 10 metres from surface water or a conduit leading to surface water
  • must be at least 50 metres from springs, wells and boreholes

You must carry out regular checks before, during and after spreading to make sure there is no pollution taking place.

If you cannot comply with the regulations above (insufficient storage, elevated soil nutrient indices or types of crops on the holding) you will need to contact the Environment Agency ([email protected] or call 03708 506506) Who will access the risks of spreading organic manures where there is no other alternative.  For this autumn, they may allow activities that will not cause significant risks. 

In 2018 the Environment Agency took an advisory approach to enforcement which 3.5 years later is becoming increasingly stringent. Using a RPS this autumn/winter means the EA will not normally take enforcement action so long as you meet the RPS descriptions and comply with conditions and most importantly you are not currently or likely to cause environmental pollution or harm to human health.

FWAG SW has a number of FACTS Qualified Advisers who can help you create a Nutrient Management Plan and records as well as create a Manure Management Plan calculating storage requirements.

Further to a conversation with the Environment Agency

  • The rules apply for this year’s cropping (any autumn established crop or bare ground)
  • If applying OM to crop with no autumn N requirement you need to inform EA that you are using an RPS
  • Check if OM application will comply with 5kg N/ha or less N leaching on Manner NPK and ground is low-risk.
  • If you cannot comply contact EA and tell them why (this is important as without this evidence base there will be no future amendments to the rules).
  • If you cannot comply for valid reasons, then the EA will not take action as long as the application is not causing a major pollution problem.
  • If applying OM that exceeds crop requirement for P on index 2 or below (P) then this is OK provided that you have evidence that excess P will be taken into account on following crops grown in the cropping rotation for that field parcel (for up to the next 5 years).

If you have any queries or require further information the EA have a dedicated email

[email protected]


Please contact us for more information: 01823 660684 / [email protected]