Every four years, there is a review of the Irish Nitrates Action Programme regulations under EU Nitrates Directive requirements.

The Nitrates Action Programme aims to improve and protect water quality from nutrient and sediment losses from farmland. The present regulations are SI No 605 of 2017 and SI No 65 of 2018. The next review of the Nitrates Action Programme is scheduled during 2021. These regulations apply to all farms and limits stocking rates up to a maximum of 170kg/ha organic nitrogen loading for standard farms.

However, if you want to farm with a higher stocking rate and your organic nitrogen loading for grazing animals falls between 170kg N/ha and up to a maximum of 250kg N/ha, you can apply for derogation and additional terms and conditions must be complied with. An application for derogation must be made each year.

In 2019, following a public consultation, additional rules were put in place for derogation farmers and are regulated under SI No 40 of 2020.

Nitrates derogation is most important for livestock farmers to allow them to farm with increased intensity in an environmentally sustainable fashion and produce food to meet our country’s needs. There are currently 7,000 farmers in derogation, representing about 5% of farmer holdings in the country. Applications for a derogation are made to Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine each spring.

Nitrates derogation rules

1 Soil analysis: every four years and one sample per 5ha maximum.

2 Nutrient management plan: this must be prepared, detailing the crop rotation plan, livestock numbers, N and P produced on the farm, N and P used on the farm by field ( both organic and inorganic), volume and type of manure storage, and a farmyard sketch.

3 Farm holding: the farm holding must be 80% grass and have grazing livestock. No livestock manure can be imported.

4 Limits: the upper limit on organic N loading (stocking rate limit per ha) from grazing animals is 250kg/ha/annum N. Commonage and rough grazing are excluded. Nitrogen excretion rate for a dairy cow is 89kg organic N.

5 Manure and soiled water storage: each farm holding must have storage for all livestock manure, soiled water and silage effluent. All slurry is to be applied to land using LESS method.

6 Lime: a liming programme must be included for the whole farm and in the nutrient management plan based on the most recent soil analysis.

7 Concentrate feed: 15% is the upper limit for feeding crude protein to animals between 1 April and 15 September.

8 Clover: New grass reseeds must include clover at minimum inclusion of 1.5kg/ha naked seed and 2.5kg/ha pelleted seed.

9 Training: complete an approved environmental training course before the end of 2021.

10 Grass production: measure grass and record annual grass production or participate in grassland management training by the end of 2021.

11 Biodiversity measure: derogation farmers are required to adapt at least one of the following: a) allow one mature whitethorn/blackthorn tree in each hedgerow; b) three-year cutting cycle of hedgerows.

12 Farm waterways: water troughs at 20m distance. Correct camber of farm roadways. All new roadways need fence erection at 1.5m distance.