Plans to reduce the upper limit for in the nitrates derogation from 2024 onwards if water quality doesn’t improve have caused alarm for thousands of farmers.

The most significant change that is definitely being introduced is around banding of nitrate excretion rates.

From 2023, each dairy herd will have its own nitrate excretion rate per hectare per year based on the herd’s annual milk yield.

Band 1: Cows producing less than 4,500kg milk annually will be assigned an organic nitrogen of 80kgN/ha/year.

Band 2: Cows producing between 4,500kg and 6,500kg milk annually will be assigned an organic nitrogen of 92kgN/ha/year.

Band 3: Cows producing over 6,500kg milk annually will be assigned an organic nitrogen of 106kgN/ha/year.

Currently, all cows are presumed to be producing 89kg N/ha per year so these new bands will change the nitrates level for all herds with the vast majority seeing an increase.


What this effectively means is that the upper limits for those seeing an increase in their per-cow nitrate rates will be met sooner.

These upper limits are 170kg N/ha for organic farmers or those not in a nitrates derogation and 250kg N/ha for those in a derogation. Farmers can export slurry to remain below these limits.

A review of the nitrates programme will take place in 2023 and if water quality trends aren’t improving then the upper limit will be reduced from 250kg N/ha to 220kg N/ha.


The parameters for what constitutes an improvement in the trends has not yet been established by the relevant authorities but the Irish Farmers Journal understands that as things stand, water quality criteria would not be good enough for the derogation to remain unchanged.

Farmers can login to their Agfood accounts to see their nitrate statements from previous years. This is displayed in terms of kilos of nitrogen per hectare.


Farmers should factor in the changes to this figure due to banding before looking at the impacts of a reduction in the upper limit.

About 3,000 dairy farmers are currently producing in excess of 220kg N/ha before banding is factored. It is expected that many more will be affected after banding is taken into account.

Affected farmers will have to either increase land area or reduce stocking rate to comply with the changes.