No penalties should be applied to farmers who inadvertently exceed their phosphorus allowance, the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has claimed.

The INHFA called for a “common sense” approach to the application of the new rules, which could potentially expose tens of thousands of farmers to penalties on their direct payments and environmental scheme monies.

By exceeding their holding’s permitted phosphorus allowance, farmers will be in breach of the regulations governing Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and water protection rules.

This could result in penalties of between 3% and 15% of BISS payments, and a possible 100% penalty on ACRES area-based payments because the farmers are not deemed to be environmentally compliant.

The ACRES fines alone could potentially exceed €5,000 per year on larger holdings.

“For many farmers this has come like a bolt out of the blue,” said INHFA president Vincent Roddy.

“While very intensive farmers are familiar with issues around the spreading of fertiliser, there are a large number of extensive farmers that this could be an issue for,” he maintained.

“Many of these farmers spread fertiliser compounds such as cut sward or 18-6-12 and could by accident now find themselves in breach of these rules,” Roddy explained.

“Common sense must prevail here and it is vital that Minister McConalogue and his officials act to ensure that no penalties are applied to farmers who are not aware of these new rules,” he said.

‘Severity of the breach’

Meanwhile, the level of penalties on farmers who exceed the phosphorus allowance levels for their holding will depend on the “severity of the breach” of regulations, the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, has said.

The minister was responding to a parliamentary question from Claire Kerrane, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture who asked if farmers would be penalised for spreading fertiliser compounds which include phosphorus.