independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Sheep issues and the nitrates directive

TRADITIONALLY, stocking rate has been measured in ewes per acre or ewe per hectare. For the purpose of the nitrates directive, the kilograms of organic nitrogen that the sheep excrete in their faeces is what is used to calculate the stocking rate. A lowland ewe and her lambs produce 13kg of nitrogen and 2kg of phosphorous per year. For a mountain ewe and her lambs the figures

TRADITIONALLY, stocking rate has been measured in ewes per acre or ewe per hectare. For the purpose of the nitrates directive, the kilograms of organic nitrogen that the sheep excrete in their faeces is what is used to calculate the stocking rate. A lowland ewe and her lambs produce 13kg of nitrogen and 2kg of phosphorous per year. For a mountain ewe and her lambs the figures are 7kg and 1kg for nitrogen and phosphorus, respectively.

To work out your stocking rate multiply the number of animals by the organic nitrogen produced and divide by the net area claimed on your SFP form (Area Aid).

Once you have assessed your stocking rate you can check where you fit in.

Kg Organic nitrogen/ha

* Over 250kg (19 lowland ewes/ha): reduce stock to 250kg or below.

* 170-250kg (13-19 lowland ewes/ha): derogation required.

140-170kg (10.75-13 lowland ewes/ha): must have minimum 6 weeks storage capacity.

* <140kg (less than 10.75 lowland ewes/ha): can avail of outwintering to reduce requirement for 6 weeks storage.

On mixed farms where more than 5pc of the area is occupied by a tillage crop different calculations apply.

Fertiliser allowance

There are two types of chemical fertilisers that are governed by the nitrates directive. These are nitrogen and phosphorus. The amount of nitrogen that you can apply depends again on your stocking rate.

Phosphorus allowance is arrived at by taking account of any soil tests that are available. All REPS farms will have soil tests. You also have to take into account the available phosphorous in the slurry/dung produced during the housed period (6 weeks) plus the phosphorous in any concentrates fed. Each tonne of dry concentrate feed coming onto the farm is deemed to be an importation of 5kg of chemical phosphorous. Flocks that are using high concentrate inputs (e.g. early lamb and creep feeding) may get caught here.

Winter storage

capacity/outwintering

Regardless of the zone in which your farm is situated you only need six weeks storage for the sheep on your farm. This storage can be under the sheep by allowing the dung to build up for the 6-week period. Provided that adequate straw is used you do not need a concrete floor in an existing housing. And provided that there is no seepage escaping from the house you do not need a seepage tank. New buildings erected to house sheep are required to contain a concrete floor.

As I have already said if you are under a stocking rate of 140kg N/ha you can outwinter sheep at a stocking rate of up to 130kg N/ha. It is a condition of the outwintering that the animals have access to all of the land required in calculating the 130kg/N (e.g. 10 lowland ewes/ha) at all times. You can only use land on you SFP application form to avail of this concession.

Over the last number of years many sheep farmers have started to keep sheep outdoors through the winter by rationing the grass daily using electric netting. This is still acceptable under the directive, provided that the holding has six weeks storage capacity for the sheep.

Because the sheep do not have access to all of the land all of the time it does not meet the rule for outwintering for the purpose of claiming reduced storage capacity.

Poaching/alternative forages

Under the nitrates directive where the required storage capacity is in place, animals that are fed outdoors are assessed under cross-compliance.

From a cross-compliance point of view the emphasis is on soil erosion/rutting by farm machinery as opposed to poaching. Therefore, if you have storage capacity you must ensure that the area on which the animals are being fed is free from rutting by machinery delivering feedstuffs, etc, and that you avoid soil damage that will result in the soil going into a slurry (i.e. liquefaction of soil). Where sufficient storage capacity is not available to meet the 6-week requirement of nitrates, you will be assessed under nitrates for poaching, in this situation where more than 50pc of the green cover is removed it is deemed to be severely poached and a penalty will apply.

Handling units

You are not required to collect the seepage from your sheep handling unit provided that:

1) No sheep are fed on the sheep handling unit.

2) You clean and remove the slurry/dung from the unit after each use.

Records

This form needs to be submitted to your local DVO before the movement takes place.

Summary

The new regulations place an extra workload on all farmers. Even if you are not in receipt of any direct payments (Single Farm Payment, REPS or Area-based payment) you are still obliged by law to live within the rules of the directive. For most sheep farmers direct payments form a huge part of their annual income; it is vital that you spend time protecting this income source.

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