Latest News

The future of Ireland’s Nitrates Derogation and the level of on-farm nitrates use will be among the pressing issues facing our newly-elected MEPs when the European Parliament convenes in Strasbourg from July 16th to 19th.

Since January 1st, the permitted annual level of organic nitrogen (N) use per hectare (ha) in Ireland has decreased from 250kg to 220kg, representing a 12% reduction. This average is based on the annual figure and does not mean that farmers must remain on or under the 220kg limit on a daily basis throughout the calendar year.

This change has forced over 2,000 Irish farmers to establish new means of offsetting their stocking rate so as to avoid penalties, including the loss of some EU income support payments. Recent press reports suggest that some farmers impacted by the reduction have already seen profitability decline by 30%.

Nitrates per hectare levels are initially calculated via the standard nitrogen excretion level of each farm animal. This is then compared to the number of hectares declared by a farmer for EU payments.

Following a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food & The Marine held on May 29th, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said that updated information on permitted nitrates per hectare levels will be made available.

“My department is willing to explore further options, with the objective of improving this service to farmers,” he said.

“I believe this will best be done through discussion at the Agriculture Water Quality Working Group that I established last year, involving all the main farming organisations.”

Meanwhile, dairy farmers remain uncertain about stocking levels when it comes to the applicable use of nitrates, said Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill, who chairs the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture.

“There is banding and the level of production going with that, and now there is this allowance for the feeding of a low protein ration,” he said. “You are trying to calculate where you are at, we are virtually halfway through the year, and people are going to have to make decisions. I wonder whether the co-ops can help to do the calculations.

“The complication is that the department will not know if a person is feeding a low-protein ration, and what impact that is going to have. Three or 4kg of an allowance per cow will have a huge impact on a person’s stocking rate.

“There is a role for the co-ops in this to get information to farmers because, at the moment, they (the farmers) do not know.

“Unfortunately, we are going to be in a quota situation at the end of the year where, if people are heading into a different band, they will have to take corrective action to keep under the 220.”

To meet with emerging trends and new legislative goals, Target Fertilisers has moved with the times by creating the Terra Range, which has been developed as an alternative to untreated, inorganic fertiliser.

The result of a collaboration between Target Fertilisers and Brandon Biosciences, the Terra Range fine-tunes the bioactivity of seaweed extracts via PSI Precision Technology.

This led to the identification of PSI 362, a specific molecule which stimulates Nitrogen (N) uptake and increases the assimilation of additional protein and yield in the crop, as proven by grazing trials conducted in the summer of 2021.

“It’s amazing how well the Terra Range works,” said Padraic Cummins of Oranmore, County Galway who was among the farmers who participated in Target Fertilisers’ grazing trial.

“I can definitely see visual improvements in sward quality, density and colour when I am on treated grass and comparing it with non-treated areas. I can tell when all the N has been used by the growth rate and the colour; that’s not so obvious to us when applying other N fertilisers.”

Padraic, who runs a 280-strong herd with his son David, added: “With the Terra Range, it’s quite remarkable that you can use less N and grow the same amount of grass. It’s a real win-win for the environment and farmers alike.”

Farmers had until April 19th last to apply for the 2024 Nitrates Derogation Application System while the deadline for confirmation of this year’s dairy excretion rate bands fell on May 15th.

Meanwhile, those farmers who aren’t availing of the derogation can still remain compliant by either managing their livestock or exporting slurry or farmyard manure.

What lies ahead carries an unwelcome level of uncertainty for farmers according to Jackie Cahill. “Farmers are extremely anxious and fearful about what is coming down the tracks with the added bureaucracy and what restrictions will be imposed on them in the future,” he said.

“It is essential that we can put the best case forward for our country regarding the retention of the 220kg limit. Without it, the financial implications for rural Ireland are too horrid to contemplate.”

Target Fertilisers, in association with Brandon Biosciences, is playing its part in developing a more sustainable product range within an evolving farm environment.

1: For details on the Terra Range, visit www.targetfertilisers.com/terra-range.com 

2: To estimate your farm’s maximum nitrates allowance, visit gov.ie/nitrates  

3: To view interim bovine nitrate and phosphate statements, visit agfood.ie