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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-01199: Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife)

Scottish Green Party

Date lodged: 4 July 2016

To ask the Scottish Government what it considers the environmental benefits of the requirement for nutrient management plans have been on permanent grassland.

Answered by: Roseanna Cunningham 21 July 2016

The nutrient management plan requirement was introduced in order to ensure that common agricultural policy (CAP) greening rules in Scotland include at least one measure to help mitigate agriculture’s contribution to climate change, by encouraging efficient use of inorganic nitrogen fertilisers. It was introduced in 2016 under the ‘greening equivalence’ rules, which allow member states some flexibility to tailor EU greening requirements to national priorities.

Ensuring the efficient use of nitrogen-based fertilisers is an important part of the shift in farming practices needed for Scotland to meet its world-leading climate change targets. When too much nitrogen-based fertiliser is applied to soils, it creates a nitrogen excess which is either passed into the atmosphere in the form of nitrous oxide (a highly potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 298 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over 100 year life span) or into watercourses via runoff and leaching from the soil as nitrates.

The Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2014 report shows that agriculture and the related land use sector is Scotland’s main contributor to emissions of nitrous oxide. It indicates that of the 3.3 MtCO2e of nitrous oxide that Scotland emitted, 89% of this (2.7 MtCO2e) came from agriculture and related land use. These emissions are largely produced by agricultural practices on soils, and to a lesser extent by animal manures.

The nutrient management plan greening requirement is a light-touch measure designed to encourage efficient use of nitrogen-based fertilisers by requiring farmers in receipt of CAP direct payments to estimate the quantity of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser and lime they intend to apply on permanent grassland fields (excluding fields which also contain rough grazing or arable land) each year. This aims to drive behaviour change by encouraging farmers to consider whether they are using fertilisers efficiently.

Accompanying guidance also encourages farmers to test the pH of their soil. If the soil pH is too low, applying lime can help to improve the efficiency with which grass takes up the nitrogen applied in fertiliser. This, in turn, has the potential to improve the productivity of the grass sward and to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. The EU Regulation does not provide the scope to make soil pH testing a mandatory part of the requirement, since it requires greening rules to apply every year, whereas a more appropriate frequency for soil pH testing is every five to six years. However, the benefits of soil pH testing are promoted in guidance.