‘No flexibility’ around prohibited slurry spreading period

There is “no flexibility” as regards the dates of the closed period for spreading slurry, according to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed.

The minister reaffirmed his stance in response to a recent parliamentary question from independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, who asked the minister whether or not he will extend the season to accommodate farmers whose land is currently too wet to facilitate spreading.

As part of the Nitrates Directive, closed periods are required for the application of chemical and organic fertiliser – such as slurry, Minister Creed explained.

“Under Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme (NAP), the closed period for the spreading of slurry commences on October 15 and ends between January 12 and January 31 – depending on location.

“Research, including that from the Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP), has found that there are disproportionately high nutrient losses to waters during winter months – when grass and crop growth has ceased and high rainfall is a probability.

The current closed period coincides with the time when the risks of losses to water are the highest. The closed period was agreed after extensive public consultation, including discussions with farming bodies.

“There is no flexibility as regards the dates of the closed period,” he said.

Minister Creed also added that it is not permitted to apply slurry by means of a rain gun or an upward trajectory splash-plate, as these application methods do not provide for an “efficient and accurate application of slurry”.

Slurry may only be applied by means of a downward trajectory splash-plate or by low-emission slurry spreading (LESS) equipment, he outlined.

Review of the NAP

The review of the NAP in 2017 – against the backdrop of an expanding national dairy herd and a slight disimprovement in water quality over the previous monitoring period – was a key priority for his department, according to Minister Creed.

“From the outset, the ambition was to ensure a balanced NAP, supporting efficient farming and also protecting and improving water quality. The successful negotiation of the continuation of Ireland’s derogation was also a key priority for this department.

“In December 2017, Ireland secured a positive vote on the renewal of our nitrates derogation for the period 2018-2021 – on the basis of a strengthened set of water protection measures.

This contrasts with other EU member states, which have had severe difficulties in negotiating a successful renewal of their derogations.

The derogation allows herdowners farm at a more intensive stocking rate than normally allowed, subject to complying with specific conditions, the minister explained.

He views the derogation as “highly important” in order to “facilitate continued expansion of the dairy sector and for achievement of the targets set out in Food Wise 2025”. The minister outlined his views on the NAP review in response to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fail TD Jackie Cahill.

Additional measures

As part of a derogation, there are additional conditions for farmers to comply with. The aim of these measures is to improve on-farm efficiency and contribute to the continued international recognition of the environmental sustainability of Irish agriculture.

Continuing, Minister Creed said: “In order to be eligible to apply for a derogation, farmers must have sufficient livestock manure storage. Storage requirements have been mandatory since the introduction of the nitrates regulations a decade ago.

Abbey Machinery slurry

Half of all slurry produced on a derogation farm must be applied by June 15 annually. After this date, slurry may only be applied using low-emission equipment.

“Farmers are increasingly utilising their manures to the greatest effect, applying a greater percentage in the spring time.

“The condition further supports that move; but, also takes account of the fact that agriculture is responsible for 98% of ammonia emissions and that the nitrogen loss from slurry to the atmosphere through ammonia volatilisation in the summer is almost twice that of slurry applied in the spring time.

“Slurry application by LESS equipment reduces losses by 30%, compared to application by splash-plate; reducing ammonia losses results in increased nitrogen uptake by grass,” he said.

Improving efficiency

It is hoped that these measures will play an important role in improving efficiency and reducing nutrient losses to air and water on the more intensively-stocked derogation farms.

Grant assistance to purchase LESS equipment is also available to farmers under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS II), with funding of 40% of the cost on offer – rising to 60% for young trained farmers.

Concluding, Minister Creed said: “It is critically important that we achieve the objective of improved water quality in a balanced and proportionate manner, securing the long-term development ambitions for the industry and avoiding the challenges that are now being faced in some other member states.

“The current programme and derogation conditions aim to achieve these twin objectives.”