Ireland’s new nitrates action plan has been published by the Government. The document, which has been signed off by the EU, states that there will be a 15% reduction in chemical nitrogen allowance by 2024.

A 10% reduction in chemical nitrogen allowance is in place from March 2022. The additional 5% cut in nitrogen allowance for 2024 onwards is pending an interim review of the programme, scientific advice and water quality trends.

A national local authority agricultural inspection programme will be put in place by local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Risk-based inspections

This new programme will direct local authorities on where to prioritise inspections using a risk-based approach, taking water quality data and other environmental risk factors into consideration.

Department of Agriculture nitrate inspections will increase from 5% per year to 10% per year.

The highly controversial banding mechanism for calculating organic nitrogen excretion rates for dairy cows has been included without alteration.

This will see dairy cows categorised as producing either 80kg, 92kg or 106kg or organic nitrogen per hectare per year, based on their milk yield.

Other new measures included in the programme include:

  • Register of chemical fertiliser sales to be established by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) for 2023.
  • Slurry and soil water storage and management – dates of closed period extended.
  • Sewage/industrial sludges – there will be a review of management and oversight.
  • P build-up – this is available to farmers above 130kg/ha.
  • Green cover on tillage ground - to reduce any potential losses of nutrients post-harvest cultativation/crop sowing will happen within tighter timelines. Further measures will be introduced in the coming months to address concerns on loss of feeding areas for birds.
  • Crude protein in concentrate feeds – a maximum crude protein content of 15% is allowed in concentrate feedstuff fed to grazing livestock between 15 April and 30 September.
  • Organic matter determination - from 2022, all soils greater than 20% organic matter are required to be soil tested for organic matter.
  • Soil tests are compulsory for holdings above 170kg/ha by 2022, and by 2023 for holdings above 130kg/ha and for sown arable land.
  • Grazing land management – for nutrient planning, the stocking rate for commonage is 50kg/ha.
  • Review of technical tables – some tables have been updated with the most recent scientific evidence and some tables will be updated in time for the interim review when the scientific evidence is available.
  • Phased approach for low emission slurry spreading (2023-2025) for farms above 100kg/ha and must also be used for the application of pig slurry.
  • Interim review of the programme within two years.