Farmers who buy fertiliser direct from Northern Ireland must register as fertiliser ‘economic operators’ and submit information on their imports to the National Fertiliser Database under proposed Department of Agriculture rules.

The move will disrupt fertiliser trading and lead to a hardening of the border for farmers, Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture last Wednesday.

Where a farmer buys fertiliser in the Republic of Ireland, the merchant or co-op that they deal with is obliged to submit the information on their behalf.

The requirement for individuals to register as economic operators, Carthy argued, will negatively impact all-island trade.

“It’s ironic at a time when so much effort has gone into working on a European level to ensure that there would be no hardening of the border in our country, that the Department of Agriculture is actually putting in place what is effectively a hardening of the border in terms of farmers’ ability to operate north-south, and vice versa,” he said.

Carthy also warned of a loophole in the legislation which could be exploited.

“It will just take one or two bad operators in this State and to purchase north of the border and either maliciously or by mistake, import or transfer fertiliser from the north into the south and not have it registered,” he said.

However Minster for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue rejected Carthy’s position.

“There are no obstacles, the requirements in terms of somebody buying north of the border are the same as somebody buying south of the border – it’s just that you record and keep a record of what fertiliser you have on your farm and that you include any fertiliser you have on your database,” the minister said.

“Whether you buy it in the north or the south, that’s the same. The legal obligation of this is that you have to record it and have an accurate update,” Minister McConalogue said.

“Ultimately it would be desirable for the north to have a fertiliser register as well, but obviously we can only bring in one for the Republic,” he said.