The first of January 2021 marks the introduction of a number of new rules under the Nitrates Directive. Some of these have been well documented, with the measures attracting the closest attention including diverting all runoff from farm roadways away from watercourses. This is a requirement for all farms irrespective of the stocking rate.

Another measure receiving much attention is the requirement for farmers availing of a derogation, or those with a grassland stocking rate at or exceeding 170kg organic nitrogen per hectare (excluding exports), to erect a fence at least 1.5m back from watercourses. Both of these measures come into play from 1 January, but others will come into force during the first quarter of 2021.

For example, derogation farmers must apply all slurry by means of low emission slurry spreading (LESS) technology from the date the application period opens for their zone, while farmers who had a whole farm stocking rate (WFSR) at or exceeding 170kg N/ha must apply all slurry using LESS equipment from 15 April.

Liming programme

There has been relatively little discussion in recent weeks on the requirements of a liming programme, which now becomes mandatory for farmers with a whole farm stocking rate at or exceeding 170kg N/ha. That is, it applies to derogation farmers and those remaining outside of derogation by means of exporting slurry. The following questions and answers, completed with the Department of Agriculture, shed some light on common queries.

The liming programme is dictated by the whole farm stocking rate at or over 170kg organic N/ha (excl exports) in 2020. The terms and conditions state the liming programme will be four years in duration, with 25% applied in 2021. Does this requirement hold true for the four years if the farm reduces its whole farm stocking rate in 2021/2022 and drops down below 170kg organic N/ha?

Under the current SI 607 of 2017 (as amended), if the farm reduces its whole farm stocking rate in 2021 below 170kg organic N/ha, this measure will not apply to them, as the calendar year 2022 falls outside the term of the current Nitrates Action Programme (fourth NAP), therefore conditions of the fifth NAP will apply. The review of the current NAP has begun, with the rules to apply in 2022 subject to this review.

Does the liming programme have to be an official document prepared by a Teagasc adviser/consultant or can a farmer prepare a simple document going on the soil sample information for each area?

The liming programme must be incorporated into a current nutrient management plan (NMP) and based on associated soil analysis results.

Only a NMP produced by the Teagasc Online Nutrient Management Plan program or the FarmEye Nutrient Management Plan program prepared by a FÁS adviser is acceptable.

Do nitrates derogation rules apply to farmers remaining outside of derogation by means of exporting slurry where the maximum area per soil sample is 5ha?

Non-derogation rules apply. Soil samples should be in accordance with the procedure as specified in SI 607 of 2017. The sampling area shall not exceed 4ha. Exceptionally, where soil type and cropping of lands were similar during the previous five years, a sample of up to 5ha shall be deemed acceptable.

Do soil samples have a maximum lifetime for the purposes of the liming programme?

Yes, the results of the soil analysis shall be disregarded if a period of four years or more has elapsed after the taking of a soil test.

By what date does the liming programme need to be in place?

The liming programme must be in place before 31 March 2021.

Will lime applied prior to 2021 be taken into account?

Lime applied prior to 2021 can be included in the requirements for a liming programme, provided it was spread after soil analysis. The balance of lime must be spread over the four-year programme starting in 2021.

How will the purchase and application of lime be verified by the Department?

Lime application for the entire farm must be recorded and retained on the holding along with the relevant invoices. These shall be submitted upon request by the Department.

Will land rented by way of a one-year (conacre) agreement be required to be included in the programme?

Lands by way of one-year (conacre) agreements don’t have to be limed. However, if land is being managed for more than one year, then it should be included in the programme.

Will there be exemptions for areas of high molybdenum or areas of land that are marginal in nature?

On high-molybdenum soils, the lime requirement should be reduced by 5t/ha. However, this needs to be agreed in advance with a FÁS adviser.

What if I want to use granulated lime?

Granulated lime is fast acting and is generally used in maintenance situations where the pH is good. Granulated lime is usually spread at a rate of 3:1 ground limestone to granulated limestone.

Review of the Nitrates Action Programme

The consultation phase for the next Nitrates Action Programme has commenced, with the first window to contribute remaining open until 15 January 2021.

Relevant documents are located at

There is a second consultation period also planned for the end of the first quarter of 2021.

Identifying watercourses

The Irish Farmers Journal has been contacted by several farmers in recent weeks regarding the advice to use OSi maps to identify watercourses that need to be fenced. The contact related to the maps purchased at the desired scale of 1:5000 being printed in black and white and therefore not showing up continuous blue lines that identify watercourses for fencing.

We have also been in contact with Ordnance Survey Ireland, which has provided some clarity and advice. OSi advises that the Online Store Map Viewer is a tool that allows users to pinpoint an area prior to the selection and purchase of a PLACE Map. While this screen will identify watercourses in blue for the purpose of Nitrates OSi advice, the cartographic styling of the online store map viewer has not been designed to suit the particular purpose of identifying watercourses.

It says: “The colour blue is used on the online store map viewer, along with different fills and shades, to represent a variety of different water features. The blue lines referenced are only depicted on our online store map viewer and will not be displayed in blue on any purchased PLACE Map.”

“The features on the map supplied will be represented in various shades of black, white and grey only, as the map supplied is designed to allow users to mark up features of interest to them for official purposes. Hence, and to be clear, if a water feature is present on a map or PDF file supplied by OSi, it will be represented in shades of black, white and grey and it will not be coloured.”

Therefore, farmers should avoid purchasing maps for the purpose of identifying watercourses marked in a continuous blue line.