The Department of Agriculture has proposed reducing the maximum allowable stocking rate and banning fertiliser application on commonage in its draft publication of the next Nitrates Action Programme (NAP).

These suggestions were proposed with the intention of preventing farmers from using land they do not actively farm, to make stocking rates and nitrogen application rates appear lower than they are in reality, the senior inspector in the Department’s nitrates and biodiversity division Jack Nolan has outlined.

“It might be commonly known as ‘map acres’, where people take land but do not farm it to dilute their stocking rate,” Nolan said.

Another proposed measure would prevent farmers from including farmland more than 30km away from their home farm in their calculation of stocking rates.

“The idea here, and if there is a better way of doing it we are open to it, is to avoid farmers taking land as map acres for the sake of it."

Nolan encouraged any farmers who may genuinely farm land over 30km away from their home block to contact the Department within the consultation period for the NAP to explain their situation.

Fertiliser register

The Department’s proposed fertiliser register will be introduced within two years or less, Nolan told the webinar’s 600 attendees, to prevent bagged fertiliser from being bought and not noted in farm records.

When discussing cases where a farmer may be farming the land of an inactive BPS claimant, but purchasing the fertiliser themselves, Nolan put a question back to attendees;

“Should that person even be applying for the BPS, if you are the person farming?”

Nolan stated that the Department is in correspondence with the Danish Agricultural Agency, Denmark’s department of agriculture, to discuss its experience with implementing a similar system of centralised fertiliser purchase recording.

Slurry equipment

Nolan commented that the high output prices of 2021 have meant that farmers should consider investing in slurry and soiled water storage facilities.

He had earlier in the webinar identified insufficient slurry storage as a cross-compliance issue for 40% of dairy farms.

He also suggested that it would not be advisable for every farm to purchase low emission slurry spreading (LESS) equipment and that the hire of contractors may be a better farm business decision, given the cost of slurry spreading equipment.

“Surely there are different things they could invest in like safety, grass measuring, getting lime right and using a contractor,” he said.