There is growing anger among farmers, especially dairy farmers, around the new proposals being tabled by the Department of Agriculture under the current Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) review.

The review, which takes place every four years, last took place in 2017 and is being completed ahead of the next programme, which will run from 2022 to 2025.

Among the 15 new proposals are a requirement to spread all slurry using low emission spreading equipment (LESS) on holdings stocked at more than 100kg N/ha, a new requirement to have soiled water and slurry stored separately and a change to the nitrogen excretion rates for dairy cows based on yield bands.

On the new fertiliser register, farmers asked questions as to what would happen if all fertiliser wasn’t spread in a given year and what about taking silage fields without maps, the calculations wouldn’t be correct when counting up nitrogen spread on land applied for on BPS forms.

Issues for farmers

IFA dairy executive Aine O'Connell told the meeting that there were some huge issues for farmers contained in the document, many of which were as important as, and if not more important than, the current round of CAP reform.

“The IFA are not happy with a lot of the proposals. The role of the nitrates action programme was to reduce the agricultural pressure on water quality, yet we see proposals in the document that are looking at air quality, which isn’t acceptable.”

Why not encourage this practice though an eco scheme

O'Connell went on to outline the new slurry spreading closed periods being proposed in effect means four weeks extra storage capacity will be needed on farms.

She said this will place huge expense on some farms to comply.

“We know that it makes sense to spread slurry during the growing season, so why not encourage this practice though an eco scheme rather than the route they are proposing,” O'Connell said.

There was some concern expressed at the meeting that all farmers were being made pay for some poor decision-making around slurry storage in the south and southeast of the country.

Flouting laws

Comments were made that a few farmers in every county were flouting laws during the closed period and that every farmer was now being made paid for this.

The general consensus was that with particular reference to Cavan farms, that the majority of farms were very well set up for soiled water and slurry storage and spreading during the close period wasn’t an option in the northwest, given the ground conditions and rainfall that farmers deal with.

The Department will have to be held to account on this one

Many farmers outlined their own situations where new slurry tankers which are currently being used on their farms will be left redundant without investment in expensive retrofitting gear.

Others said there were huge issues currently being encountered in the county with dribble bars and trailing shoe kits working on hills and a blanket approach for the country on this measure won’t work.

Anger

Host farmer and IFA dairy committee vice-chair Seamus Dolan expressed his anger at the proposals and he encouraged farmers to make submissions either together or individually.

“The Department will have to be held to account on this one and they can’t be allowed to move the goal posts so quickly, with farmers then left to pick up the pieces.

"If changes are being proposed, we need a much longer transition period to be fair to farmers.”

Local dairy farmer and Lakeland Dairies board member Gerard Donohoe confirmed that Lakeland Dairies as a company would be making a submission.

“Our submissions as farmers should be guided by science and fact. There is no point bringing emotion into it,” Donohoe said.

Cavan IFA chair Elizabeth Ormiston was called on to arrange a lobbying session of local TDs and public representatives in the next week, where Cavan IFA representatives could make their views known.