Nitrates derogation brings many new farm rules

by Stephen Cadogan

No direct run-off of soiled water from farm roadways into watercourses or dry drains will be allowed from January 1, 2021.

This is one of the many new requirements in the nitrates regulations which came into effect on December 20, 2017, following agreement between Ireland and the European Commission in December on a renewal of our nitrates derogation for 2018–2021, on the basis of strengthened water protection measures in Ireland.

The new soiled water from farm roadways stipulation will apply to all farms three years from now, and may require farmers to alter the slope on farm roadways.

However, Teagasc advises farmers to implement any relevant works as soon as possible to ensure protection of waters, even if certain measures do not become compulsory until January 1, 2021.

Meanwhile, already in force for all farmers since January 1 is a stipulation that run-off from poaching will now be addressed under nitrates regulations, as well as under Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) regulations.

Also since January 1, farmers who have to do nutrient management planning have to observe a new maximum soil sampling area per soil sample, reduced to five hectares, and soil analysis results are now valid for four years.

Soil organic matter analysis of designated peaty soils with an organic matter of over 20% must be carried out where soil sampling is undertaken, unless certified as mineral soils by a FAS adviser.

There is a simplification of the calculation of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) allowances in nutrient management plans; and limits will be based on the previous year’s stocking rate, according to Teagasc.

For tillage farmers, growing winter cereals on soils with a P index of 1 or 2, an application of 20kg/ha will be allowed up to October 31, if incorporated into the soil at or before the sowing time.

There are minor changes to N and P allowances for potatoes and vegetable crops.

However, the most demanding new measures are on farms with higher stocking rates.

Already, farmer organisations warn of difficulties for derogation farmers having to apply 50% of all slurry produced by June 15, 2018.

After this date, slurry may only be applied using low emissions equipment.

However, if all slurry is spread before June 15, there is no need for low emissions equipment.

Soiled water can be spread using a splash plate, but soiled water mixed with slurry is defined as slurry.

Farmers who apply for a derogation in March 2018 must have adequate storage for all animals on the farm during the winter of 2018/2019.

Farmers with grassland stocking rates over 170kg of nitrogen (N) per hectare have until January 1, 2021, to exclude bovines from watercourses.

The watercourses must be fenced 1.5m from the top of the bank.

Drinking points must be located at least 20m from watercourses.

On the positive side, the new regulations allow farmers with a grassland stocking rate above 130kg/ha a higher level of phosphorus (P) for building up P levels (index 1 and 2) in soils.

However, to avail of this increased P allowance, they must carry out soil sampling (including soil organic matter analysis).

They must also undertake nutrient management planning with a FAS adviser, to be submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

And they must attend a training course on P build-up, in the first year.

Nitrate regulations have also been reviewed and updated for farmers using pig slurry. The limit of 170 kg of organic N per hectare still applies to all farms that import organic fertilisers such as pig manure.

Where imported livestock manure is to be applied in any year to the land on the holding, calculations shall be based on the previous calendar year’s stocking rate.

According to Teagasc, this is a welcome change, offering farmers that use pig manure greater certainty in their calculations.

It should also allow these farmers do their calculations earlier in the year.

Sheep, horses, or other non-bovines on the holding must be factored into the calculation to determine the organic N on the farm.

The calculation to determine the phosphorus (P) requirement for a farm has been simplified, by removing the calculation of the P contained in the slurry/manure (produced over the winter period) of the grazing animals.

The availability of P in organic manures such as pig slurry is deemed to be 100% available at soil P Index of 3 or 4. If a soil is Index 1 or 2, the availability of the P from organic fertilisers is deemed to be 50%.

The farmer can verify that the soil is Index 1 or 2, by soil sampling his farm.

If the farmer does not soil test the land, he/she can still assume Index 3 soil P levels, as in previous versions of the regulations.

Teagasc advisers note, “It would be wrong for pig farmers to ever soil sample another farmer’s holding”, and regulations do not oblige pig farmers to produce nutrient management plans for other holdings.

In the new regulations, a soil sample must be taken per five hectares (maximum area), every four years (changed from a sample per eight hectares (max) every five years).

There is a new allowance to exceed P allowances up to 2020, if the excess P arises from application of pig manure.

These and other additional stipulations attached to Ireland’s new nitrates derogation are the outcome of year-long negotiations with the EU Commission, and two separate public consultations.

The new measures take account of the growing numbers of derogation farmers who are farming at intensive stocking rates, and also environmental objectives for water, climate change and ammonia which Ireland must achieve.

Furthermore, opportunities for large savings on farms through better grassland management and improved timing and application of fertiliser have been taken into account.

Agriculture is responsible for 98% of ammonia emissions, and Ireland must reduce its ammonia emissions by 5%, by 2030 compared to 2005. Ammonia losses from slurry are significantly reduced by slurry application in the springtime, and by using low emission slurry spreading equipment.

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