Defra is considering an eleventh-hour climbdown on how much farmers pay for pollution controls coming in next year.

At the British Poultry Council awards last week, food and farming minister Jeff Rooker raised concern about the high administrative costs of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control rules that hit pig and poultry farmers in January. He's asked NFU director general Richard Macdonald to see if the £3,331 application fee and charges of up to £2,800 per year could be reduced.

The Environment Agency polices the IPPC rules, collects payments and is required by law to recover inspection costs. But industry leaders say farmers already comply with many new rules under existing farm assurance schemes. Macdonald said he hoped to cut out costly duplication.

"We believe there's a way of making savings using the current assurance schemes, to do the necessary on-farm work that the legislation requires." Some 85% of poultry farmers and 94% of pig farmers stand to benefit because they are in a farm-assurance scheme. Emergency meetings will take place with Defra officials and farmers' representatives to thrash out details.

Pressure is mounting, given the end of Janurary application deadline, according to British Poultry Council chairman Peter Bradnock. "We'd like to see the Environment Agency accepting applications for pig and poultry farms without taking the fees until the question is settled."

"The deadline won't change," warned National Pig Association chairman Stewart Houston, urging producers to apply in time. He claimed the UK was gold-plating EU pollution rules, with initial IPPC costs slated at £18,000 before they were negotiated down. "We're looking at other EU states to see if we're putting in too much detail compared with them."