Nitrates derogation farmers will have to up their game on 'green' measures

The Nitrates Expert Group last week published recommendations from its review of the nitrates derogation. Some of the key changes due to come into force next year will include compulsory liming and clover cover, mandatory training courses and more biodiversity measures, reports Ciaran Moran

Proposal: The measures would see low-emission slurry spreading (LESS) equipment used for any spreading after June 15
Proposal: The measures would see low-emission slurry spreading (LESS) equipment used for any spreading after June 15
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Ireland's nitrates dero­gation provides farmers with an opportunity to farm at higher stocking rates, above 170kg livestock manure nitrogen/ ha, subject to additional conditions designed to protect the environment.

The derogation is an important facility for more intensive farmers and almost 7,000 intensively stocked farmers availed of the derogation in 2018. In effect, a farmer must not exceed two dairy cows per ha without a derogation, but can farm at almost three cows per ha if approved for a derogation.

Compulsory liming

The review proposes a compulsory farm scale liming programme on derogation farms and on farms with a stocking rate above 170kg N/ha.

This measure is to ensure an improvement in nutrient use efficiency (nitrogen and ­phosphorus), achieve a reduction in chemical fertiliser usage and consequential GHG.

* Lime releases up to 80kg N/ha/year and unlocks soil phosphorus [P] and potassium [K]

* Increases the response to freshly applied N, P & K

* At farm level, every €100 investment in lime equates to approximately €700 in extra grass production annually.

Mandatory environmental training

Derogation farmers will have to take part in training courses to:

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* Keep up-to-date with current issues

* Learn from the experiences of others

* Increased contact with advisors

* Deal with problems as a group

* Improve profitability.

The training must include and build on the key learning from the Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP) and the Agricultural Sustainability, Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP).

Mandatory use of low-emission equipment

The current nitrates derogation provides that at least 50pc of slurry produced on the holding shall be applied by June 15. Low emission slurry spreading (LESS) equipment shall be used for any slurry applications after June 15. The following further amendments are set to be implemented:

* Slurry remaining on the holding after April 15 next year must be spread by LESS

* All slurry on the holding from January 12, 2021 must be spread by LESS.

In addition, it is recommended these conditions should apply to all farms with a whole farm stocking rate in excess of 170kg livestock manure N/ha.

Grass management

Derogation farmers must undertake training on grassland management and recording of grass production on farm. They must also record through appropriate software technology the grass produced annually on the farm.

This grassland management decision support tool enables the advancement of the decision-making process through regular pasture measuring and budgeting on farm, improving nutrient use efficiency, grass production and utilisation.

Alternatively, farmers can undertake certified grassland measurement training.


All new grass reseeding completed by derogation farmers must include minimum clover content as part of the grass seed mixture; however, the inclusion rate must not exceed 50pc of the sward mixture.

Land eligibility

Commonage/rough grazing will not be eligible for derogation in 2020 and cannot be included for the calculation of the chemical fertiliser allowance for the holding. As a consequence, this will reduce the chemical fertiliser allowance on marginal lands and reduce the risk of losses to the environment.

Animal feed

A measure to reduce the crude protein in concentrate feeds for grazing livestock on farms with a grassland stocking rate greater than 170kg/ha in order to reduce excess protein in animals' diets has been recommended.


The review group recommend the adoption of a biodiversity measure on derogation farms.

It is proposed derogation farmers implement the measures in the All-Island Pollinator Plan.

When will the proposed measures be implemented on farm?

All the measures proposed are for adoption on farm from January 1 next year with the exception of:

* The additionality for Low Emission Spreading of Slurry will be implemented on a phased basis through 2020 and 2021

* All farmers must undertake training in Nutrient Use Efficiency and Grass Management which must be completed by 2021.

Considerations for next nitrates programme

The group noted that there are environmental pressures which can be attributed to intensification of agriculture and said that intensively stocked dairy grazing platforms need further review in the context of the next programme.

Some 65pc of the bovine livestock in the country are on farms at stocking rates >130 kg/ha.

The review group do not consider this group to be intensive, however, the next Nitrates Action Programme review should examine opportunities for this cohort to reduce their environmental footprint and contribute to the climate and water challenges.

The group highlighted that ongoing research in fertiliser formulation provides an opportunity for both environmental and climate benefit.

It noted that the use of inhibitor technology to reduce the losses from fertilisers provides a significant environmental and climate opportunity.

This it said should be reviewed further as part of the next NAP.

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