As part of the last Nitrates Action Programme review, it was agreed that Ireland would introduce a new fertiliser database, which would record the fertiliser and lime use on all farms. Prior to this, the only farms required to submit fertiliser records were farms in a nitrates derogation. From now on, all fertiliser sold in Ireland will be assigned to a herd number and the database will contain information on fertiliser purchases, along with opening and closing stocks for each farm.
This will avoid the need for derogation farmers to supply fertiliser records annually and it will also serve as an easier way for farmers who apply for the low nitrogen Eco Scheme option under the new Basic Income Support Scheme (BISS), to prove their actual fertiliser use.
It will also be used as a way of recording the use of protected urea and lime on an individual farm basis. As these contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, the new database can be used to identify which farms are using them. Spreading lime, where necessary, is a mandatory action for farmers in a derogation and the new system will also be used to verify that the required amount of lime was spread.
Because all farmers must include closing fertiliser stocks at the end of the spreading season, the new database will also make it easier for the Department of Agriculture to identify farmers that exceed their chemical fertiliser allowance.
All farmers have a chemical fertiliser allowance based on their stocking rate and soil fertility. Exceeding these allowances leaves the farmer open for penalties under conditionality rules in the new BISS, formerly cross-compliance.
Because the database will be in electronic format, the Department won’t be relying on paper records and so those breaking the rules in terms of fertiliser rates will be easily identified. Furthermore, farmers or merchants who are found to have contravened the legislation around the new fertiliser database will have committed a criminal offence and could be liable for a fine of up to €5,000.
All farmers who buy fertiliser or lime must register as professional users from 1 September. From this date, it will be an offence to buy or sell fertiliser without being registered. The registration process is via the Department of Agriculture online portal, at www.agfood.ie. Once logged in, the registration process is relatively simple and it can be carried out by a third party agent, such as an adviser.
The legislation states that fertiliser can only be sold to farmers that are registered as professional end users, and that merchants and co-ops are required to check this before fertiliser moves off their premises. The farmer’s herd number will be used to check if the farmer is registered or not.
Farmers with multiple herd numbers can register as professional end users under each herd number, and it is up to them and the merchant to assign fertiliser purchases to the appropriate herd number. This is important so as to prevent any anomalies around fertiliser rates per hectare on land assigned to one herd number, versus land assigned to another herd number.
The second key date is 15 October, as this is the date that farmers must submit closing fertiliser stocks on their farm at a minute to midnight on 14 September. Effectively, farmers have one month from the start of the closed period for spreading nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser in which to submit closing fertiliser stocks. Where there are no closing stocks, as in all fertiliser purchased was used, then farmers still have to submit NIL or zero closing stock. The closing stock for one year becomes the opening stock for the next year.
For example, presume a farmer had 10t of fertiliser in the yard on 14 September and then forward bought another 10t on 20 September and completed the closing stock declaration on 1 October. In this case, the closing stock would be 10t and the opening stock would be 10t, even though there was 20t of fertiliser in the yard on the day the farmer filled in the closing stock declaration on the agfood website.
There is a raft of other requirements for fertiliser merchants and fertiliser importers to complete. Most of these requirements will be completed automatically through new software that will link merchants to agfood.
There are two complicating factors for some farmers. The first is in situations where fertiliser is imported by a farmer from Northern Ireland or elsewhere, and the second is where a farmer sells fertiliser to another farmer.
In such situations, the farmer importing the fertiliser or selling the fertiliser to another farmer must be registered as a fertiliser economic operator and follow the same criteria as a merchant or co-op.
This involves recording of fertiliser sales for each month by the middle of the following month alongside additional information on the fertiliser type, inhibitors used, manufacturer, etc.
However, for the majority of farmers all that will be required on an ongoing basis is to input closing fertiliser stocks between 15 September and 14 October each year.
The additional step this year is to register as a professional user. If a farmer doesn’t intend to buy any fertiliser or lime between now and 15 September, they can register and input closing stock after 15 September. Those that intend to buy fertiliser after 1 September, must register before the fertiliser can be purchased.
Aside from confusion over timelines and dates the system looks like it will be relatively straightforward to operate. In cases where the farmer is not up to speed on using computers, it will be the farm adviser that will submit the closing stocks, but the process is quick and easy. One potential issue is that farmers operating in a limited company need separate login details to the Department website, and the password expires after 30 days. This is a real nuisance for such farmers. The bigger picture of course is that this register will force all farmers into compliance and this is to be welcomed. A bit like spreading slurry in the closed period, anything that has the potential to harm water quality is just not acceptable. Breaking the rules may have carried a certain level of bravado 10 years ago, but those days are well and truly gone. However, there is some concern about the impacts on phosphorus, with many of the view that the allowances at Index I and II are insufficient to build soil fertility. This is something Teagasc and the Department need to react on.