Nitrates Action Programme amended
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From Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
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The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, have today approved amendments to Ireland’s 5th Nitrates Action Programme. The amendment to the Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection Waters Regulation has been signed by Minster O’Brien with the revised Action Programme coming into effect from 28 July 2022. The amendment to the Regulations gives effect to the Commission Implementing Decision granting Ireland a derogation for some farms to stock at a higher rate subject to stricter environmental rules. In addition, it clarifies and refines requirements around shallow cultivation of land post-harvest.
Commenting on the amendment Minister O’Brien said:
“Protecting and improving water quality, along with biodiversity, is a national priority in Ireland, and these amendments provide additional clarity to Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme in order to achieve this objective.
“Following the public consultation on the draft environmental reports for the 5th Nitrates Action Programme, the government committed to reviewing the measure requiring shallow cultivation of arable land post-harvest to ensure there are no adverse impacts on farmland birds. This amendment delivers on that commitment. To further build on this, the government is currently working with stakeholders to develop a research programme that will provide more information around this measure to ensure protection of wild bird populations over the coming years.”
Minister McConalogue said:
“Protection of the environment is central to guiding these amendments while providing certainty to farmers on the commitments they must undertake. All farmers have a role to play in improving water quality as well as protecting biodiversity and these amendments to the regulations deliver on this.”
The amendments were agreed by the Ministers following consultation with relevant stakeholders. The new measures regarding shallow cultivation are targeted to counties with a medium to high proportion of tillage land and where nitrates focused actions are a priority to address water quality, while also leaving space to avoid any negative impacts on wild bird populations.
Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme
Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) gives effect to the requirements of the Nitrates Directive and its purpose is to prevent pollution of surface waters and groundwater from agricultural sources and to protect and improve water quality. The Minister of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is responsible for publishing the NAP, in consultation with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Ireland’s current NAP and Good Agricultural Practice Regulations (S.I. 113 of 2022 as amended) will run until the end of 2025.
An interim review of the current NAP will be undertaken in 2023. A review of the overall Programme will commence in 2024 to inform development of the next NAP.
On 29 April, the European Commission published its Implementing Decision granting a derogation requested by Ireland pursuant to Council Directive 91/676/EEC concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources.
Under the Nitrates Regulations farmers can farm at a stocking rate of up to 170 kilograms organic manure nitrogen per hectare. The nitrates derogation allows farmers farm to a higher stocking rate of 250 kilograms organic manure nitrogen per hectare subject to stricter environmental conditions. The derogation runs to the end of 2025 with a review of water quality data due to take place in 2023. Depending on the outcome of this review the maximum stocking rate for derogation farms in certain areas may reduce to 220 kilograms organic manure nitrogen per hectare from 2024.
The amendment to SI 113 of 2022 gives effect to the Commission Implementing Decision and incorporates Ireland’s new nitrates derogation into national legislation.
Shallow cultivation post-harvest
Prior to the current amendment, SI 113 of 2022 required shallow cultivation or the sowing of a crop in all circumstances within 7 days of the chopping or baling of straw post-harvest. In all cases this had to take place within 14 days of harvesting (apart from where weather dictates the requirement should not apply). Amendments regarding shallow cultivation include:
- defining the term ‘shallow cultivation’ along with the term ‘soil consolidation’
- targeting the measure to ensure its effectiveness is maximised while ensuring the minimum impact on biodiversity. Given the measure is focused on reducing nitrate losses it is now limited to counties with catchments where the EPA have identified the need for nitrates measures as priority to address water quality, where tillage land is at a medium to high density. Shallow cultivation/sowing of a crop post-harvest is now only required in counties Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow
- where shallow cultivation is required, a minimum of 20% and a maximum of 25% of cereal land on each holding must not be subject to shallow cultivation to preserve food sources for farmland birds. Further research on shallow cultivation and bird species is planned to commence later this year and this exemption will be considered further as part of the 2023 Interim Review of the Nitrates Action Programme
- the original 7-day requirement has been extended to 10 days to provide additional flexibility for farmers. Shallow cultivation or sowing of a crop is now required within 10 days of baling/chopping of straw post-harvest. Where shallow cultivation or sowing of a crop is required it must still take place within 14 days of harvesting (apart from where weather dictates the requirement should not apply)
- to address certain problematical weed species (Bromes and Blackgrass) soil consolidation will be allowed as an alternative to shallow cultivation in limited circumstances
In addition, the amendment exempts the need for shallow cultivation in the following cases:
- where the farmer is certified organic
- where root crops or late harvested crops have been harvested (crops typically not harvested before late September)
- where a cereal crop or beans has been harvested after 15th September or where a cereal crop has been undersown with another crop
- where a winter cereal crop, oilseed rape or beans is due to be sown on the land by 31 October
- where the land is destined for use by the National Ploughing Association later that year or in the first 2 months of the following year and the farmer has documentary evidence to support this
The amendment to the regulations also provides clarity on the requirement in the case of late harvested crops and the 6 metre buffer to protect intersecting watercourses. Where the 6 metre buffer applies, the amendment clarifies that the buffer strip is to be left uncultivated.
The amendment also refines and clarifies certain other aspects of SI No. 113 of 2022.
The amendment to SI No. 113 of 2022 has been published as SI No 393 of 2022.