At a recent sheep seminar at the Abbey Hotel in Co. Roscommon, farmers were told that the belt is tightening further in relation to the Nitrates Action Plan (NAP) due to declining water quality.

Speaking to farmers, Teagasc’s Sean Mannion said that we’re now on the fifth amendment of the programme and changes continue to be made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on water quality and the decline of it in relation to nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) use.

The belt continues to be tightened on farmers and agriculture he said, even though our watercourses aren’t in bad shape. The realism however, is that some of the higher quality waterways are dropping down a tier, Mannion said.

“Our water quality is measured based on five tiers. The worrying trend we are seeing is the number of watercourses falling out of the high-quality tier,” he said.

“What more can farmers do? Well we can look at how livestock manures are stored, spread, and when its spread.

“We can look at what type of soil should get it and in relation to other fertilisers [artificial types], look at the type of product being used and when it should be spread and the place for it,” he added.

Calculating your GSR

Speaking about the changes in the NAP, Mannion spoke about soil sampling requirements and calculating your grassland stocking rate (GSR).

He said: “Regarding the soil sampling requirements, all holdings with a GSR of 170kg N/ha or above [prior to export of slurry from your farm] shall assume a P index of 4 until a soil test is carried out.

“As of January 1, 2023 this applies to all holding with a GSR of 130kg N/ha.

“This illustrates what I said before about tightening the belt further that more and more farmers are being brought down and included with the 170kg N/ha being brought down to 130kg N/ha.

“So how is this derived? If you have 10 cows and 10ha, a cow has an allocation of 65kg N/ha throughout the full year.

“So you divide that by the number of hectares to find out what your GSR is.

“In the instance of sheep, one ewe is equal to 13kg N/ha [including her lambs]. So it’s the number of ewes you have multiplied by 13kg N/ha divided then by the number of eligible hectares you have declared under your Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

“This is already done for you in the case of bovines; you can see what that is on so you don’t need to go calculating it.

“However, in the case of sheep, you will have to calculate it yourself and add it on to the one the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has if you have a mixed enterprise and then divide that by the eligible number of hectares.

“Some of you may feel this isn’t a job you should be doing you can contact your planner or advisor to do it for you but it’s important to know where it comes about and how it’s calculated.”