Ireland’s new Nitrates Action Programme announced by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and Environment Minister Phil Hogan yesterday has come under criticism by many farming organisations.

Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Eddie Downey described the changes as necessary to support the growth of the sector, but noted the decision not to change the calendar farming regime was a missed opportunity that needs to be addressed.

He welcomed the announcement to increase the phosphorous allowances that can be spread on grassland, and the change in the definition of soiled water that will provide flexibility for farmers.

In a statement he said: “Two thirds of soils are currently deficient in phosphorous, which directly impacts on grass growth and feed supply for animals. The changes to the regulation should begin the process of restoring soil phosphorous nutrient levels to support increased and sustainable grass growth.  This will directly impact on the bottom-line for many farmers, as grass is the cheapest form of feed for livestock.”

In addition, IFA national environment and rural affairs chairman Harold Kingston, said: “The failure to address the inflexible calendar farmer regime in this review is a missed opportunity to allow farmers to work during the best farming conditions rather than the time of the year. Since the open period began two weeks ago, many farmers have been unable to spread slurry that could have been put out during the mild in December when grass growth and ground conditions were suitable.

“The increased nitrogen application rates for the tillage sector will contribute to improved crop yields.  However, any improvement in competitiveness will be impacted by the introduction of new buffer zones.”

Meanwhile, ICSA Ireland described the new NAP was “a major disappointment” to cattle and sheep farmers, because nothing has been done to address “the madness of calendar farming”.

According to its rural development chairman, John Barron, the revised plan has completely ignored the importance of weather conditions particularly in an Irish context where weather patterns are so variable.

“Farmers are continuously frustrated at the reality that slurry can’t be spread on the 14 January in many counties but it can be spread on the 16th, even though, as we see now, weather could be so much more suitable on the 14th.”

He added that the action plan also ignores the problem that many farmers are suffering penalties under this directive for the most trivial shortcomings in their farmyard.

“The majority of amendments seem to have been made to facilitate the most intensive farms, while ignoring the key issue of calendar farming which impacts the majority of cattle farmers.

“There is also an additional layer of bureaucracy concerning the export of slurry from one farm to another whereby in future all such movements will have to be notified to the department in a specific format.

“In addition, the revision gives a new role to local authorities, enabling them to demand information regarding the movement of slurry. This is bureaucratic overkill,” he concluded.

Related: Changes to nitrates programme