ENVIRONMENTAL restrictions on farmers have been eased to help them overcome difficulties caused by this year's bad weather.
Farmers will be allowed spread slurry until the middle of November and from the beginning of January, Environment Minister Phil Hogan has announced.
This is because bad weather meant animals were housed indoors much longer than normal this year resulting in difficulties storing all the manure produced.
Farmers are normally prohibited from spreading slurry during winter months to prevent pollution of rivers and groundwater.
However, strict conditions are being placed on the extended slurry spreading season.
"I am not simply announcing a further extension into November but a series of measures that represent a careful proportionate response to manage a genuinely difficult position on the ground," said Mr Hogan.
Extra spreading would only be allowed if storage tanks were already full and there was a potential risk of animal welfare issues, and farmers would have to notify the Department of Agriculture in advance if they wanted to do this.
Tillage farmers have also been given exemption from the need to sow a winter crop if they haven't been able to do so due to bad weather and late harvest. They are usually requir-ed to have a "green cover" on fields to prevent soil erosion.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said the measures were "pragmatic solutions to assist farmers in greatest need overcome the weather related difficulties experienced in recent months".
Farm groups welcomed the extension. However, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association said that deadlines for spreading slurry should be abandoned altogether.
"Year after year we see more evidence that setting arbitrary deadlines for weather-dependent work simply doesn't make sense. I sincerely hope that 2012 is the year that this finally gets through to the authorities," said ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin.
He also criticised the need to give the Department of Agriculture advance warning as overly bureaucratic.