Nutrient loss ‘hotspots’ will be a central focus in the next nitrates derogation review, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has warned.
Ireland’s nitrates regulations are currently subject to review, as the current derogation period concludes at the end of this year. The availability of another derogation is contingent on new regulations for 2022 being agreed with the European Commission.
One issue that has been heavily flagged by the Commission in its correspondence with Ireland is a decline in water quality trends in recent years, Minister McConalogue said.
Speaking to farm advisors at the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) AGM, the Minister said hotspots tended to be associated with higher intensity farming, commonly farms in derogation.
He stressed his commitment to securing a continuation of the derogation, with heavy investment in areas such as water quality monitoring, LESS equipment, and slurry storage.
“It is important that to secure the long-term availability of the derogation, we must see improvements in water quality, and advisors will play a significant role in working with farmers in this regard,” the Minister said.
Some 7,000 farmers avail of the derogation annually, with a further 5,000 farmers exceeding the 170kg/ha limit but availing of slurry transfers or temporary grazing to maintain compliance.
ACA president Tom Canning said indications from advisors suggest there will be an increase in derogation applications in 2021 ahead of the 31 March deadline.
Canning said that in order to deliver the correct mindset and behavioural change among farmers, it would be crucial to provide consistent, high-quality training. All derogation farmers are required to complete three training days by the end of this year.
Private advisors are currently at a disadvantage to their Teagasc counterparts in providing such training, Canning said, with the cost a multiple of the €100/client charged by the semi-state body.
He called on the Minister to put resources in place to ensure all advisors were on the same page, rather than having a “mix-match of presentations and messages.”