Nitrates Derogation: 5 questions you need to consider

Grainne McCarney from the crops and sustainability development branch at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) answers the questions you’ve likely been wondering about getting a Nitrates Derogation.

What is a Nitrates Derogation?

Intensive grassland farmers with a “stocking rate” above the 170kg nitrogen per hectare per year (N/ha/year) limit can apply for the nitrates derogation to increase their N loading limit to 250kg N/ha/year.

This reduces the risk of a nitrates breach and it also allows their farm businesses to develop as planned.

Do I need a Nitrates Derogation?

If you are an intensive grassland farmer with nitrogen (N) loading above 170kg N/ha/year, then the answer to that question is, most definitely, “yes”.

What does ‘N Loading’ mean?

N loading is a key component of the Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) and is a measure of stocking rate which has an upper farm limit of 170kg N/ha/year from livestock manure.

It is based on the nitrogen from the average number of livestock you keep on the farm over the year and the land area that you actively farm – and also takes manure imports and exports into account.

What do I need to do?

The main requirements of the derogation are that farm businesses must:
  • Have at least 80% of their area as grassland;
  • Have a phosphorus balance of no more than 10kg phosphorus per hectare per year;
  • Apply for the derogation to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) each year by March 1;
  • Submit a Fertilisation Account to NIEA each year by March 1;
  • Prepare a fertilisation plan each year.

Therefore, you will need to keep additional records and have a good administration system to ensure that important deadlines are not missed.

When applying online, only information on the planned stocking rate for the year ahead, and not from previous years, is required.

Are there any other options?

Exporting slurry, renting additional land and even decreasing livestock numbers are all ways to reduce N loading but they are expensive options and are only viable when the N loading is just over the 170kg N/ha/year limit.

In addition Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) research has shown that farms with high slurry exports can develop soil potash deficiency. Therefore, high levels of slurry exports could lead to reduced soil fertility.

To calculate N Loading and P Balance use the CAFRE nutrient calculators – which are available at

To apply

Apply for a derogation online from January 1, 2018 online. March 1, 2018 is the deadline for applications.

For further information come along to one of the CAFRE Nitrates Derogation information events:
  • Dairy Centre Open Days – Greenmount Campus, Antrim on Wednesday 24 and Thursday January 25, 2018. One-to-one consultations for this event can be booked here.
  • Nitrates Derogation information events at the Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown – Wednesday January 31 and Thursday February 1, 2018. One-to-one consultations for this event can be booked here.

To help make the most of your time with the CAFRE development adviser please bring details of land area farmed, livestock numbers, volume of manures imported/exported and concentrates fed.