The Department of Agriculture’s proposals for the next Nitrates Action Plan (NAP) are justified if Ireland is to attempt to meet European water quality targets by 2027, the senior inspector in the Department’s nitrates and biodiversity division Jack Nolan has argued.
Nolan claimed that a tightening of the current measures for slurry spreading, fertiliser application rates and soiled water storage would be needed for Ireland to be granted a new derogation by the European Commission.
Some 40% of dairy farmers are found to have inadequate slurry storage in cross-compliance inspections, with this being the driving force behind the contentious soiled water storage proposals, Nolan said.
Ensuring adequate slurry storage capacity on farms has been a requirement of the nitrates directive since the mid-2000s and inadequate storage facilities necessitates the spreading of slurry over the closed period and thus breaches of the nitrates directive, he argued.
Had slurry and soiled water been stored separately before, the incidence of such breaches would be have been lower, it was suggested.
“So people are saying there is a rogue in every parish, but it seems to becoming nearly standard practice,” Nolan stated to a Teagasc Signpost webinar attended by 600 farmers and advisers.
“I suppose it is terrible, but some farmers that are spreading during the closed period need to be called out and a heavy penalty applied,” he went on.
The consequences of these breaches could not remain to be borne by all farmers
Nolan indicated that he was not necessarily “a fan” of imposing penalties, but that the consequences of these breaches could not remain to be borne by all farmers – including those compliant with regulations.
The difficulties faced by winter milk farms in storing more soiled water than that produced on spring-calving enterprises was one area of the consultation that Nolan acknowledged as potentially problematic.
The introduction of separate nitrogen excretion figures for higher-output cows was an element of the new proposals pushed by both the Commission and other member states, according to Nolan.
As milk output has increased since the introduction of the first nitrates directive in the mid-1990s, the accuracy of an organic nitrogen figure of 85kg or 89kg per cow may be inaccurate for the higher-yielding animals.
In the second-stage consultation document released by the Department, band widths are based on milk yield, rather than cow milk solids output.
Nolan indicated in the webinar that the Department may be open to suggestions on which metric to use in determining cow output and that a discussion on the topic was expected at the upcoming open day in Teagasc’s Moorepark research facility.
This review of derogation under the nitrates directive would be the first that the Department would seek from the European Commission in the context of increasing livestock numbers and declining water quality parameters.
The derogation, Nolan reminded farmers, was not a given and had been lost by both Italy and Germany in the past.