MANY farmers will be groaning about yet another burden about to be placed upon them by the European Union whilst they are still staggering from the effects of foot and mouth.
A report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature issued on Friday says that many British rivers will not meet stringent anti-pollution measures being introduced by Brussels because of effluent run-off from farms.
The new regulations will not come into force for another 15 years but the WWFN says that Britain will not meet them unless planning starts now to prevent farm pesticides and artificial fertilisers leaching into the water table.
Many British farmers are notoriously sensitive to what they consider to be excessive interference from the EU. But, in this particular case, I think they are wrong for this could be a key measure for the future of farming, the countryside and the environment as a whole.
The Prime Minister has already promised a "root and branch" look into British farming if, as is likely, he wins the next election. One of the key considerations of any future policy changes will be the effects of today's intensive farming on the environment.
As the NFU has pointed out in response to the WWFN report, farmers are not "intentional polluters." Fertilisers and pesticides are expensive commodities, says the union, and no farmer wants to see them "wasted" by running into streams and rivers.
Nevertheless, high nitrate fertilisers, pesticides and effluent from silage clamps do cause a great deal of damage to our rivers and the fish and other wildlife that live in or on them.
Silage effluent, for instance, contains ammonia and other highly damaging substances that can be lethal. The Environmental Agency calculates that silage leaching from a 500 acre farm can cause as much pollution as a town the size of Harrogate.
High nitrate fertilisers bring about an enrichment of rivers water in a process known as eutrification. Because the water is so rich in nutrients, algaes bloom in huge quantities.
When they die, the decomposition process takes oxygen out of the water causing the death of the small insects like fly larvae and shrimps which are the bottom of the food chain for fish and aquatic birds like kingfishers, dippers and heron. In cases which are none-too-rare, hundreds of fish can also die.
Yet only a couple of generations ago, silage was almost unknown: farmers used hay for their winter feed and hay meadows are non-polluting and a marvellous haven to wildflowers and the songbirds that live on their seeds.
High nitrate fertilisers, too, were rare and expensive. Instead, farmers used good old-fashioned muck and, on acid soils, lime, an alkaline which, if did get into the rivers in small quantities, actually improved water quality.
Now it would not be possible to sustain modern high intensity farming with such methods. But as I discussed at Easter, it is high-intensity farming which is under attack for causing the rapid spread of diseases like foot and mouth, BSE, salmonella - and also for damaging wildlife and the countryside.
Above all, farmers are country folk and the vast majority have a deep understanding of the countryside. I have spoken to many over the years who have privately regretted the changes they have made to their land under the pressure from MAFF to keep on increasing productivity.
Now, after the latest farming catastrophe, they should bring those doubts out into the public domain. The NFU has promised to work closely with scientists and environmentalists to find new ways of avoiding river pollution. The union should also demand that such changes should be supported by a revised subsidy structure for their work in improving the environment to everyone's benefit.
It could be very good for business, too. Higher quality, low intensive produce is already fetching higher prices in the supermarkets and demand grows by the day: the vast majority of "organic" foods sold in Britain have to be imported.
And, for many farmers looking for ways of diversification, they should remember that angling is Britain's biggest leisure market with three million regular fishermen. Fly-fishing for trout is the fastest growing sector of that hobby - and trout, of course, demand crystal pure water. So clean up your river and start a fishery.
Cynics may scoff at this vision of a land of contented cattle in flower-filled fields fed by gin-clear streams. But we had it once and we could strive to have it again. We have a 15-year-deadline. But let's start now!