Farm Ireland

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Fertiliser and feed inputs have to be cut, warns senior inspector

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Reduction in stocking rates on intensive livestock farms will not be immediately required to counter falling water quality levels, a senior Department of Agriculture official has said.

However, he warned that feed and fertiliser usage will have to be reduced, and that farmers must tackle nitrates losses off farms.

Jack Nolan, who is a senior inspector with responsibility for nitrates and biodiversity with the Department, said that increased problems with nitrates would have to be tackled for Ireland to protect its Nitrates Derogation.

The Department has confirmed that a review of the derogation conditions will take place this year to allow farmers with derogations time to plan ahead.

At a recent Department briefing for agricultural consultants, senior officials pointed out that the latest EPA report indicated that water quality in the country's rivers and lakes had deteriorated by 3pc.

Ammonia emissions — 98pc of which come from farming — breached agreed limits in 2016 and are expected to do so again when the results are released for 2017 and 2018.

Mr Nolan told the Farming Independent that an expert group comprising officials from the departments of Agriculture and Housing, as well as the EPA and Teagasc, will draw up recommendations on a series of additional measures to be adopted by derogation farmers from 2020.

Restrictions on the use of hill land by intensive dairy farmers to ‘dilute’ stocking rates and facilitate increased fertiliser usage are expected to be considered under this process.

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In addition, farmers qualifying for a derogation are also likely to have to cover all slurry storage tanks and use low-emission methods (such as the trailing shoe and dribble bar) when spreading slurry.

Reported reductions to the current limits for the Nitrates Derogation of 250kg of organic N/ha down to 220kg of N/ha — as well as an increase in the organic N production assigned per cow from 85kg of N/ha to 100kg of N/ha — are not  expected to be considered until the next review of the  derogation in 2021, Mr Nolan said.

These would limit stocking rates. However, the Department is adamant that urgent action must be taken on water quality if Ireland is to protect the Nitrates Derogation long-term.

Mr Nolan said farmers needed to get soil pH right so that they can cut fertiliser  usage.


He said a switch to protected urea as an N source would also be recommended, and improved grass utilisation so that concentrate feed usage is reduced.

A public consultation on the measures to be introduced will be launched over the next month, Mr Nolan said.

Commenting on the proposed review, Denis Drennan of the ICMSA said farmers were very concerned regarding the implications of any changes to the derogation and the possible impact on the viability of their farms.  

“It is essential that any changes are practical, do not impose additional costs on farmers and are implemented over a reasonable timeframe,” Mr Drennan said.  

“Department officials must be very conscious of the many challenges facing farmers at this time from income challenges to Brexit and excessive regulation will not be accepted,” he insisted.

Mr Drennan added that it was essential that other sectors, including public bodies, met their requirements under existing legislation before additional restrictions on farmers were imposed.

There are around 7,000 intensively-stocked farms that availed of the Nitrates Derogation in 2018.

These comprise around 10pc of country’s land but have 20pc of the livestock.

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