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Ireland’s revised NAP: a farmer’s perspective

23 January 2018

As Ireland’s farmers settle into a new year under the revised Nitrates Action Programme, Eoin McCarthy describes both the impacts and the benefits that the scheme is having on local farmers through an interview with Mike McAuliffe, a pig farmer in County Kerry.

Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD, along with his colleague, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD, successfully negotiated a revised Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) with the European Commission on the 4th December 2017.

Ireland’s NAP, which has been in place since 1991, aims to protect water quality from pollution by agricultural sources and promote the use of good farming practice.

The newly revised NAP emphasises the importance of knowledge transfer to ensure that farmers fully understand how best to protect the natural waters on or close to their lands.

The programme, which commenced 1st January 2018, will run until the end of 2021 and will allow more intensive farmers to operate at a higher stocking rate, which will be subject to stricter rules implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The new derogation allows farmers to exceed the limit of 170 kg of livestock manure nitrogen per hectare set down in the Nitrates Regulations, up to a maximum of 250 kg per hectare, subject to complacence of stricter rules.

As well as requirements that applied to previous derogations there are two additional stipulations which ensure a higher level of environmental protection:

  1. 50% of all slurry produced on a derogation farm must be applied by the 15th June annually. After this date slurry may only be applied using low emission equipment.
  2. In order to be eligible for a derogation farmers must have sufficient storage for all livestock manure and soiled water produced on the holding.

Mike McAuliffe, a pig farmer in County Kerry, highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of renewing the Nitrates Action Programme. One advantage is that the Department of Agriculture are writing to farmers informing them of exactly how much phosphorus they can spread, alleviating any confusion around specific values. On the other hand, Mike added:

The weather is the problem … at the moment the season is open it’s not practical and somebody sitting behind a desk looking at this and doing it by paper rather than taking a practical approach, common sense has to prevail here where you can spread slurry today just because the calendar says you can do it and places are saturated.

Mr McAuliffe questioned the practical aspect of the Nitrates Action Programme especially the requirement that 50% of all slurry produced on a derogation farm must be applied by the 15th June annually, due to the fact that land quality varies throughout the country:

We cannot farm by calendar; every part of the country is different - Kerry is going to be different to Wexford - there’s different land up there [in Wexford] so that is the practicality of it. This has to make sense, there is no point in spreading slurry on land that is saturated.

It is impossible to achieve spreading 50% slurry by June where you are going out on to grassland, you may not get out before that date, going by cut silage most farmers are cutting silage in June, so July is when they want slurry for their second cut [of silage].

It’s July, fields need slurry but you may not get out your slurry at all if there is grass cover as farmers won’t spread pig slurry at this point. When the grass cover is gone that’s when farmers need it [slurry] for their second cut… you have too much slurry to get rid of in a short period of time.

We have to go by weather than by calendar - that’s the only way that this thing is going to work.

As I said, contractors are very busy in June cutting silage, and all-of-a-sudden farmers ring them saying, “I need to spread slurry”.

It’s all happening in the one month and it’s not practical - contractors and farmers are rushing, accidents happen when fellows are under pressure, working long days. There is a whole safety aspect to it.

Mr McAuliffe highlighted the need for flexibility to spreading slurry especially during the autumn months:

Similarly, in October, farmers are rushing to get the job done, the weather might not be suitable and they are working long days. It could dry up the following week when the season is closed, and then we are waiting to see whether they extend the season - sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t - but it is too late for fellows whether they are extending it or not so a practical approach has to be reached.

Slurry from animals is far better than putting out artificial manure so there has to be some recognition for that and some allowances made.

Mr McAuliffe highlighted the cost associated with spreading slurry and it’s impacting on pig farmers’ profitability, but acknowledged its environmental benefits:

It is adding huge costs to pig farmers to get slurry away. It’s a big issue - at the moment it is costing fellows [pig farmers] €3 and €4 a pig when we are losing €6 or €7 a pig, so land spreading is the most cost-effective way of dealing with pig slurry.

There are certainly a lot of artificial fertilisers coming into the country. Pig slurry is a natural product and I think it should be perceived to be better than using chemical fertilisers.

 

As reported by Eoin McCarthy

 

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