DARD and NIEA are working with the EU Commission on the renewal of the Nitrates Action Program and the review of the Nitrates derogation. This review takes place every four years and the current negotiation will refer the period from 2015 to 2018. The existing program has been effective with levels of both Nitrates and Phosphates in waterways showing significant reductions in recent years.

The commission are looking for assurance that the current proposals to increase agricultural output (“going for Growth”) will not adversely affect water quality and the environment.  The use of chemical nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser has been much reduced with phosphate levels in feed also at much lower levels than previously. There are now concerns that crop and animal production may be limited by a lack of these nutrients and DARD supported by AFBI are making a case for some relaxation in the regulations to ensure that food can be produced efficiently. The proposals tabled will permit more phosphate to be applied to low index soils and will recognise that only 60% of applied phosphate is actually available to the plant.

It is hoped that a program known as Nmax will be adopted to allow more flexibility in the use of nitrogen for high yielding arable crops. The case has been made for the continuation of the Nitrates Derogation for intensive dairy farms. While the number of farms applying for derogation has increased in recent months there are only 170 farms using the program and DARD believe that there is scope for many more farms to benefit from this scheme. 

The industry’s investment of 220 million euro in manure storage (supported by 133 million euro from DARD) has allowed much greater efficiency in the use of manures and has led to a major reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers. 

The commission are requesting a clearer definition of the prohibition on fertiliser applications in adverse weather conditions ie. rain and frost. Soil analysis will be required every four years and this along with crop requirement will determine the maximum level of fertiliser which can be applied.

There are concerns that expansion of the livestock sector and increased feed use will add to the positive phosphate balance. The challenge for farmers and nutritionists will be to ensure that the output of the sector keeps pace with feed inputs.

29/05/2014 Greenmount College.

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