New nitrates rules now require tillage farmers to shallow cultivate land which will not be planted before 31 October within 10 days of harvesting or baling.

They also require 20-25% of cereal land area to be left uncultivated.

Ted Massey, senior inspector at the Department of Agriculture with responsibility for nitrates and biodiversity, stated that an explainer on the changes will be published online by his Department.

He clarified some of the new rules, which farmers have been questioning for some time.

He also stated that land not cultivated over winter cannot receive a herbicide until 1 February, but can be ploughed from 1 December. This will slow down work on many farms and cause some issues with grass weed control.

The Department official stated those who complied with new nitrates rules up to 29 July, before any amendments took place, will not be penalised if no land is left uncultivated over winter.

Cereal area

He confirmed that the 20-25% to be left uncultivated should be calculated based on the cereal area of the farm. However, where land in oilseed rape or beans is not being planted in winter crops it should be cultivated.

Farmers who grow all winter crops will not have to comply with the requirement to leave 20-25% of land uncultivated, which would require a switch to spring cropping.

A farmer who has 100ac of cereals – 50ac of winter cereals and 50ac of spring cereals – does not need to cultivate stubbles if a winter crop will be planted before 31 October. If the farmer has 30ac under the Straw Incorporation Measure and 20ac in catch crops (inside or outside of a scheme) they do not need to leave any land uncultivated.

Farmers can cultivate parts of parcels as they choose as long as they meet the requirements to leave between 20% and 25% of cereal land uncultivated and they fulfil the criteria of the regulations.

Recap of rules:

  • The stubble cultivation rules only apply to Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.
  • Land must be cultivated within 10 days following harvest or baling and within 14 days of harvest in all cases.
  • Land destined to be planted before 31 October does not have to be cultivated.
  • Where shallow cultivation is required, 20-25% of cereal stubble land must not be cultivated to leave a habitat for birds.
  • Soil consolidation is to be carried out where grass weeds are an issue in fields, but an agricultural adviser must confirm the grass weed problem.
  • Land does not need to be cultivated where land is involved in organic farming or after root crops.
  • A 6m buffer is required along a watercourse in fields with late harvested crops.