Farmers could see a cut to their direct payments if they do not leave 20-25% of their land in stubble, the Department of Agriculture has announced in an update to its nitrates rules.
Up until last Friday, the rules required shallow cultivation or the sowing of a crop in all circumstances within seven days of the chopping or baling of straw post-harvest. In all cases this had to take place within 14 days of harvesting.
However, the Department has said that this is now only required in counties Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.
“Where shallow cultivation is required, a minimum of 20% and a maximum of 25% of cereal land on each holding must not be subject to shallow cultivation to preserve food sources for farmland birds.
“Further research on shallow cultivation and bird species is planned to commence later this year and this exemption will be considered further as part of the 2023 interim review of the Nitrates Action Programme,” it said.
The original seven-day requirement has been extended to 10 days to provide additional flexibility for farmers.
Farmers who have already cultivated stubbles as of last Friday will not be penalised and the Department confirmed that there will be no derogation for farmers who fail to plant a crop by 31 October.
The amendment also provides clarity on the requirement in the case of late harvested crops and the 6m buffer to protect intersecting watercourses.
“Where the 6m buffer applies, the amendment clarifies that the buffer strip is to be left uncultivated,” the Department said.
The IFA’s Kieran McEvoy said that “common sense” had prevailed in relation to the rules. “The department listened to the concerns in relation to counties in the west of Ireland where the stubble cultivation rules would not be workable”.
He added that allowing 25% of land to remain uncultivated and having an allowance for grass weed problems made the rules more practical.
Bobby Miller of the Irish Grain Growers Group stated: “While not every grower will be satisfied with the outcome, it is a far more practical solution than the initial proposals in our view.”