Following on from the publication of the draft Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) this week, the importance of supporting farmers – in terms of finance and time – has been highlighted by members of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

The draft report outlines the measures in which protecting against nutrient pollution arising from agricultural sources can work in tandem with our food-production system and requirements.

Some of the main measures relate to maximum fertiliser rates; manure storage requirements; periods when manures and soiled water cannot be spread; as well as the establishment of a chemical fertiliser register, among others.

Commenting on some of the headline issues such as: The plan to reduce fertiliser use by up to 15%; the requirement for all farmers to have the legal minimum slurry storage capacity; and the banding of cows’ excretion rates, IFA national dairy committee chair, Stephen Arthur told Agriland that supports of funding and time must be given to farmers if they are to meet the requirements set out in the draft report.

And, he added that he felt the overall theme of the NAP points to a cutback in production.

“I think that commercial farmers will get hammered,” he said

Fertiliser reduction and slurry storage

“Reducing the amount of fertiliser used will impact on production,” he added.

“There has to be an education on how to manage slurry and the value of managing slurry. We can get away with the 10% reduction [from January 2022] but then the plan is to bring in another 5% the following year and who’s to say where it’s going to end up?

“I am just always worried when we start out like this, where that road will bring us,” he said.

The draft report identified inadequate slurry storage as one of the primary non compliances on farms. This is important because farmers intending to apply for a derogation must have the legal minimum slurry-storage capacity in place to be eligible.

The dairy committee chair acknowledged that where such capacity issues exist, they must be resolved, but stated that this will require financial support for farmers.

“There are farmers who are non-compliant with slurry storage and we need to get them compliant, but we need to get low-cost finance for farms to do this. We also need to have accelerated tax write offs to incentivise people to go in and get their [slurry] tanks done,” he said.

He also added that limitations must be lifted on farmers who cannot access supports through the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) due to them not having the legal minimum slurry storage requirements.

“We need to get them approved for TAMS but this is an egg and chicken job – they [farmers] don’t have the storage to cover what they have on the farm, so they don’t qualify for a TAMS grant. They should be allowed into TAMS and get them into compliance,” he said.

Regarding the banding of cows’ excretion rates, new rates will be introduced from January 2023 that will be used to calculate farms’ organic nitrogen.

But the commencement of this new banding calculation comes too soon, according to Arthur:

“We were hoping for a longer roll into this. This is going to be very sharp, coming in next year. Farmers need time to re-adjust themselves and that will take some time – to get extra land, or whatever that may be.” 

He said he would reiterate that call for a longer lead in time to be given before these new rates are applied.

He said there needs to be an “evolution within the industry and not a revolution“, adding that programmes like like the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) and the River Basin Management Plan should be expanded.

This has been echoed by IFA environment chairman, Paul O’Brien, who said that the scale of the challenge to farmers over the lifetime of the next NAP shouldn’t be underestimated.

“It’s vital that programmes like ASSAP are expanded to support farmers and that the DAFM improves communication with farmers to support greater compliance,” he said.

The ASSAP was introduced during the second cycle of the River Basin Management Plan to “act as a more collaborative approach to achieving positive water quality outcomes for Irish agriculture” according to the NAP. The government has given a commitment to expand the ASSAP but an assessment of that is underway to determine the direction it will take.

O’Brien also reiterated the need for farmer supports in order to implement the NAP measures proposed.

“The single biggest issue that has not been addressed in the draft plan is the financial implications of the proposed measures and the risk of increasing the financial vulnerability of more farms,” he said.

“Where a measure has financial implications for farmers, grant aid and accelerated capital allowance schemes must be introduced to support their adoption to enable farmers to realise greater environmental standards, which would benefit the entire country.”