Up to 5,000 intensive dairy farmers could have to be trained in grass measurement by the end of next year in order to meet strict new qualifying criteria for the Nitrates Derogation.
Around 2,000 farmers currently practice grass measurement, but the full 7,000 derogation farmers will have to be actively measuring grass by the end of next year to comply with the changed rules governing the Nitrates Derogation which have been introduced by the Department of Agriculture.
Under the new regulations derogation farmers will either have to train in grass measurement or hire a trained specialist to carry out at least 20 farm walks a year to calculate grass covers and upload the results using software technology such as Teagasc's PastureBase system.
The requirement to train more than 5,000 farmers to measure grass will put a massive strain on existing resources, given that Teagasc trained just 650 farmers last year.
Teagasc's Grass 10 training course is run over two years and involves trainees being assigned to host farms, which they visit six to 10 times per year.
There is little clarity around what exactly the grass measurement course will entail; however, more details are expected to be provided by the Department of Agriculture this week.
The ACA has confirmed that its members will be involved in the delivery of the training course. ACA is due to meet the Department of Agriculture tomorrow to discuss the matter.
"ACA members will be involved in all aspects of grassland management under the Nitrates Directive, including training," said ACA president, Owen O'Driscoll.
"As the majority of Nitrates Derogation work is completed by private advisors, they will play a very important role in assisting farmers to meet the requirements," Mr O'Driscoll added. However, the cost of the course could prove problematic as Teagasc are currently offering the Grass 10 training free to their clients.
Hiring in professionals to do the grass measurement will also prove expensive. It is estimated that it will cost farmers around €1,000 plus VAT for the 20 farm walks.
One grass measurement specialist told the Farming Independent that his phone "had been hopping" for the last week, with calls from advisors and derogation farmers.
As outlined exclusively in Joe Kelleher's column in the Farming Independent earlier this month, the requirement on grass measurement is among a raft of changes which impact the 7,000 derogation farmers, and the 5,000 farmers who export slurry annually to bring them under the 170N per hectare limit.
Among the other changes are:
● The introduction of a compulsory liming programme;
● After April 15 this year all slurry on affected farms will have to be spread using the Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) equipment, and in 2021 all slurry produced on these farms will have to spread using LESS methods;
● All grass-seeding from this year will have to include clover;
● Farmers will have to reduce the crude protein content of their concentrate feed to a maximum of 16pc between April 1 and September 15 this year, and to 15pc for the same period in 2021;
● Derogation farmers must attend a training programme in nutrient-use efficiency and the management and protection of water. This course must completed by the end of 2021.
The current Nitrates Action Programme runs until the end of 2021 and its possible continuation will be reviewed in mid-2021 by Ireland and the European Commission.
"Water quality in Ireland has not been improving and there is a fear that unless we can address this issue rapidly then the derogation that allows our most intensive farmers to stock their farms at up to 250kgs N per hectare may be in jeopardy," Joe Kelleher warned.