During the last few years a number of farmers have been breached for exceeding the 170 kg N/ha/year nitrogen loading limit under the Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). As the Nitrates Regulations are part of cross-compliance requirements, any breach will result in a Direct Support Payment penalty.
A nitrates derogation allows a higher organic nitrogen loading of up to 250 kg N/ha/year on some farms (it is not applicable to pig and poultry farms). All other farms in Northern Ireland must comply with an organic nitrogen loading limit of 170 kg N/ha/year. The EC insist that farmers applying for a derogation must comply with additional criteria which are similar across Europe and are aimed at protecting the environment.
Under the EC rules, any farmer wishing to avail of a derogation have to apply annually to NIEA and must comply with additional measures. To be eligible for derogation, farms must operate below 250kgN/ha/year from grazing livestock manure (cattle and sheep); have at least 80% of agricultural land in grassland; shall not exceed a phosphorus balance of 10kgP/ha/year and soil sampling must be carried out every four years for each uniform area of the farm. Each year farmers must also prepare a Fertilisation Plan and have this available on farm by 1 March (a template is available).
The UFU would urge any farmer who feels that they may need a derogation to seriously consider their options now and if necessary submit an application to NIEA by the 31 March closing date. While the additional requirements may seem off-putting, the derogation option may well be the most suitable option for some farm businesses. Derogation applications can be submitted online via the DAERA website. Late applications will not be accepted so where required, farmers should act now to ensure these are with NIEA on time.
Farmers who are already operating within an approved 2018 derogation are required to submit a 2018 Fertilisation Account to NIEA by 31 March 2019 as well as an application form if they wish to continue at the higher stocking rate in 2019. Unless they have formally withdrawn from the derogation, submission of the fertilisation account is essential. Failure to submit this will result in a penalty being incurred. Any farmer submitting a Fertilisation Account should complete this accurately and ensure that the detail submitted meets the criteria set for the derogation to avoid any breaches.
DAERA are in the process of renewing the derogation for NI with the European Commission. The Nitrates Derogation is vital to many Northern Ireland cattle farms and is worth millions to the agricultural sector therefore it is important that this review process with the EC is concluded quickly and efficiently to give certainty to farmers going forward.