As of January 1st, 2024, Irish derogation farmers will be permitted to use 220kg of organic nitrogen per hectare, a reduction from the current limit of 250kg/ha.
This was confirmed to Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue on September 6th following a meeting with EU Agriculture Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.
“I made a strong case to Commissioner Sinkevicius for the retention of Ireland’s 250 kg/ha derogation until the next review, based on Ireland’s unique, grass based agricultural system, the measures farmers had already taken to improve water quality, and the need for additional time to see the results of these measures in our water quality indicators,” the Minister said.
In the region of 7,000 Irish farmers avail of the derogation with The Netherlands, Denmark and the Flanders region in Belgium the only other EU territories in which the derogation applies.
According to Minister McConalogue, Commissioner Sinkevičius stressed that “that there is no prospect of re-visiting the current decision.
“It may be possible to make some very minor adjustments to the current mapping based on scientific parameters, but these are unlikely to affect the vast majority of derogation farmers. My Department will be examining this over the next few weeks and engaging with the Agriculture Water Quality Stakeholders Working Group in this regard.”
The pending changes are expected to affect about 40 per cent of Ireland’s Derogation farmers and will come into effect six months before the Local and European Elections.
Current thinking on what lies ahead suggests that the impacted farmers will face one of the following three scenarios:
1: A reduction in cattle numbers
2: Increase land area or
3: The export of slurry, all of which would negatively impact on farm profitability.
However, a reduction in stock levels will not have an impact on water quality according to Eddie Burgess, an agriculture and catchment specialist with Teagasc.
Feelings over the derogation have been running high among farmers and their representative bodies over the past year, with one government Senator, dairy farmer Tim Lombard, suggesting in late August that a drop to 220kg/ha would lead to “carnage”.
Following the Minister’s comments on September 6th, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated: “The real thing we have to do now is to make sure we hold the 220kg. We’re one of only three countries in Europe that have the derogation and we may be the last. We want to make sure that we hold onto that.”
Established in 1991, the EU’s Nitrates Directive, promotes sound farm practice and is designed to ensure sustained and improved water quality across each of the 27 Member States.
Each Member State is obliged to prepare a National Nitrate Action Programme (NAP), the framework through which the application and management of manure and other fertilisers is outlined and delivered. Back in 2006, Ireland produced its first NAP covering the whole 26 counties and this was reviewed every four years with the most recent and fifth NAP covering the years 2022 to 2025.
An interim derogation review took place in 2019 with additional measures put in place for derogation farmers to ensure the protection of water quality.
Looking slightly further ahead, Ireland’s current derogation is due to expire on January 1st, 2026 and is likely to fall into sharp focus beyond next January’s scheduled new reality.
Minister McConalogue said that derogation farmers, with the help of their advisors must “make the necessary arrangements to manage their holdings applying from January 1st next year. My Department will be issuing N and P Statements to farmers shortly to assist in that task.
“In the meantime, we must continue to do everything we can to improve water quality, so that we can make a credible case for the renewal of the derogation in 2026.”
This latest change for derogation farmers is most disappointing, given that it is based on just a one-year report on water quality in July which indicated no change. It leaves farmers with major financial headaches in terms of capital investments and farmer profitability. More time was needed for the recent actions to take effect following the 2019 review and in the wake of the new NAP agreed in March 2022.
The change will additionally put an upward pressure on price of land both purchased and leased and puts it beyond the tillage farmer to compete, thus making it impossible for the Government to achieve the extra 50,000 ha of tillage sowings.
Industry is continuing to achieve greater efficiencies within established environmental parameters.
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The Terra Range of fertilisers includes PSI® 362, an extract made from brown seaweed which stimulates a plant’s nitrate transponders to take up more of the available N in the soil than it would otherwise do.
These additional nitrates are converted into amino acids which produce more chlorophyll and catalyse more photosynthesis.
With 25% less N used, similar biomass levels are being achieved, which also contribute to higher dry matter levels in the crop thereafter.
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