Farmers’ ability to purchase fertiliser from outside the State is an “enormous black hole” in the Department of Agriculture’s current plans for a fertiliser register, the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) has warned.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee this week, ICOS livestock and environmental services executive Ray Doyle acknowledged that the planned register will be a “key measure” in delivering substantial reduction in the use of chemical nitrogen and will create a “significant switch to using protected urea”.

He said ICOS recognises that it will “support farmers in making the right decisions in respect of our environmental commitments”.

However, in order for the register to be viable, he said there needs to be a seamless system, which will capture all the use of fertiliser within the State.


Highlighting the implications of cross-border fertiliser trading, Doyle told TDs and senators: “It would be extraordinarily naive to assume, given examples from other products such as silage plastic and smoky coal, that similar loopholes will not be taken advantage of in this scenario.

“We acknowledge the efforts of the Department to seek an all-island approach and we appreciate the sensitivities at play. However, the lack of any clear timelines for a solution is very worrying.”

Last week, the Department confirmed to the Irish Farmers Journal that farmers who buy fertiliser in Northern Ireland for use on farms in the south will have to apply to join two separate registers and that together, these will make up the national fertiliser database.

‘Fit for purpose’

Doyle highlighted ICOS’s work with “stakeholders in the fertiliser supply chain” and the Department to "support the development of a fit-for-purpose register”.

“It is vital that the current IT systems in each co-op will work seamlessly with the Department’s new register to ensure there is no unnecessary bureaucracy or inefficiency at co-op level when it comes to selling fertiliser.

ICOS says it recognises the fertiliser register as a "key measure" in delivering a substantial reduction in the use of chemical nitrogen. \ Donal O' Leary

“There needs to be a significant communications campaign to inform farmers of what will be needed to ensure compliance with the new register, including the recording of closing and opening stocks for each year. Farmers who are not proficient in IT skills will need support in this regard,” he said.


Also speaking in Leinster House this week, Teagasc director of research Dr Pat Dillon submitted a record of Teagasc’s concerns about the plans for a fertiliser register to the agriculture committee.

While noting that the “establishment of the fertiliser register has the potential to lead to a reduction in the level of chemical fertiliser used”, Dr Dillon said it will have a “very significant impact on the workload of advisers”.

He said the “interaction with the register is likely to be entirely by electronic means and a significant number of farmers rely on advisers to complete electronic tasks”.

“This task will be in addition to the completion of 2022 fertiliser records. There is capacity for efficiencies in subsequent years from the register, but this will require two prerequisites.

“Firstly, the design of the fertiliser register should focus on moving as quickly as possible to a real-time system, which provides advisers and farmers with support for ongoing decisions on fertiliser use.

“Secondly, every effort should be made to simplify the process of farmer integration with the system, with the Department taking a lead in providing training and support for farmers in the use of this and other aspects of the agfood system,” the Teagasc statement read.