Could fertiliser prices go even higher due to new EU rules

Pic Roger Jones.
Pic Roger Jones.

Sarah Collins

MEPs have clashed over draft EU fertiliser rules that some fear could push up costs for farmers and leave the bloc dependent on Russian imports.

During a debate in the European Parliament's agriculture committee last week, battle lines were drawn on a year-old European Commission proposal intended to boost organic fertilisers.

Only 10pc of fertilisers in the EU are organic (based on compost or manure), with 80pc produced using minerals, mainly nitrogen, but also phosphorus and potassium.

Agriculture MEPs are afraid that a rule change designed to reduce cadmium, a naturally occurring but toxic and carcinogenic heavy metal, in phosphate rock imports will benefit Russia.

The EU imports around six million tonnes of phosphate a year, mainly from Morocco, where naturally occurring cadmium residues are high.

The Commission wants to lower cadmium limits gradually from 60mg/kg of phosphate to 20mg/kg over a period of 12 years.

"The only country that can produce cadmium respecting these limits is Russia," said Romanian centre-right MEP Daniel Buda during a debate on the draft last week.

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness said farmers need "the guaranteed availability of fertilisers that are reliable and that give them good crops".

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"Trade is important," she said, pointing to the EU's over-dependence on Russia for energy.

"We would have equal concern if we were over-dependent on fertilisers from Russia," she said.

The Irish Farmers' Association says fertiliser costs have spiked in Ireland and across the bloc since the EU imposed anti-dumping duties on ammonium nitrate fertiliser imports from Russia in the 1990s.


The share of fertilisers in total farm costs is 20pc in Ireland, the highest in the EU, according to a 2015 study for the European Parliament.

It is the second most expensive input cost for Irish farmers, after feed. Agriculture, environment and internal market MEPs have now made around 1,500 amendments to the Commission's draft fertiliser law.

These include a suggestion to allow farmers more freedom to use processed livestock manure - which would require reopening separate nitrates rules.

The amendments need to pass the committee stage before being put to a vote in Parliament later this year, and will then need to thrashed out with EU governments.

Meanwhile, there is deadlock in talks between EU negotiators on separate rules to boost organic farming, which have been dragging on for almost three years.

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