The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, has said that the application process for the nitrates derogation will be a “one-step process” from 2024.

Issues around nitrates derogation were high on the agenda at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) today (Friday, November 17).

Minister McConalogue told the AGM: “The ICMSA have also made me aware that there are cases where farmers are losing their derogation for minor issues.

“I have asked my officials to identify ways to reduce the likelihood of minor discrepancies leading to a farmer being excluded from the derogation.

“One key step in this regard, will be removing the requirement to submit end of year fertiliser accounts, as this information will be taken from the National Fertiliser Database,” the minister said.

“So, from 2024 the derogation application will become a ”one-step process’. Within that process my officials are also working to develop IT (information technology) capacity to reduce the risk of other non-compliances arising due to minor clerical errors,” he added.

Nitrates derogation

Addressing the AGM the minister spoke at length on the issue of the nitrates derogation, and the impending reduction in the derogation from 250kg of organic nitrogen (N) per hectare to 220kgN/ha from January in the majority of the country.

Minister McConalogue said that he has asked Teagasc to conduct work on nitrates, slurry, and farmyard manure in order to inform future policy on the issue.

“This work includes a review of nutrient excretion rates for calves to align the figures with actual output as the animal grows.

“This will directly reduce the pressure to move calves off farm at a young age next spring,” he told the AGM.

The minister added: “I have also asked Teagasc to review the nutrient content of slurry and to assess the impact in terms of nutrient excretion rate if we were to reduce the crude protein content of concentrates fed to dairy cows.”

However, the minister acknowledged that for many farmers these changes will not be sufficient to offset reductions in the maximum derogations stocking rate.

The minister is set to meet with European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius next week in Ireland on the nitrates derogation issue.

The minister told the ICMSA AGM: “I continue my engagement with the commissioner, and I look forward to his visit next week which provides us with a great opportunity to show him what we are doing here to improve water quality.”

Despite that, the minister reiterated that the commission will not revisit the decision to reduce the derogation, and that preparation for the reduction needed to continue.

“It is prudent that we continue to prepare for the move to the lower stocking rate and I know that most will have already commenced this process by speaking with their advisors and assessing their own individual circumstances,” Minister McConalogue said.