NEW farm pollution controls which looked set to be rolled out across the whole of Wales on January 1 have been put on hold.

A pan-Wales approach to such things as muck spreading and fertilisers had been fiercely opposed by farming unions and farmers.

In a surprise move, the January 1 deadline has now been postponed with rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths confirming that she was investigating alternative ways of cutting agricultural pollution in Welsh lakes and rivers.

The minister has been exploring alternatives with the Wales land management forum sub-group, a body established specifically to focus on agricultural pollution.

“I want to explore further if there is a way we can provide farmers with the flexibility to achieve these essential environmental outcomes in a way that is best suited to individual businesses,’’ she said.

The announcement followed a plenary debate at Cardiff Bay during which the minister insisted she was on the side of farmers.

However, as environment minister too, she expressed concern about an “unacceptable number’’ of agricultural pollutions.

“When I put my computer on at the weekend, invariably, I'm getting e-mails about agricultural pollution incidents," she said.

"It's too many and it's embarrassing and I think everybody wants to see less pollution. I'm not saying it's just the agricultural sector, of course not, but my regulations are obviously to do with the agricultural sector.’’

She said “decisive action’’ was needed.

“It is vital farmers urgently recognise the scale of the problem in Wales and use this opportunity to engage in developing alternative solutions.’’

One aspect of the proposed controls she said she has looked at personally was the proposed closed periods for fertiliser applications.

Speaking at the plenary debate she said: “I think farming by calendar is always something that I've never been able to quite understand. I always said to the agricultural sector that it was one area that I absolutely really understood why they thought we should be looking at that. However, it has to be earned—that kind of flexibility has to be earned.’’

The minister’s change of approach has been welcomed by farming unions.

NFU Cymru deputy president Aled Jones said an all-Wales NVZ approach was not evidence-based, proportionate or targeted.

Mr Jones said he was “encouraged’’ that Ms Griffiths had recognised the very real challenges that a farming by calendar approach would bring.

“NFU Cymru categorically rejects any proposals which include the introduction of the nitrates directive and nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZ) across the whole of Wales,’’ he said.

“This is on the basis of the great harm it will do to farm businesses and our rural communities across Wales which, the evidence shows, greatly outweigh any benefits to water quality that an NVZ approach can deliver.