‘Phosphorus levels allowable under the Nitrates Action Plan need to be examined’

The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney has been called upon to look at the Phosphorus levels allowable under the current Nitrates Action Plan (NAP).

MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan made the call to the Minister as he believes that changes must be made to ease the pressure facing some of the country’s most intensive livestock producers at the start of 2017.

The situation centres on the transitional arrangements regarding the Phosphorus levels allowable under the current NAP, as set out in S.I. 31 of 2014.

At the start of 2017, the excess kg/ha of Phosphorus allowed under the current plan is set to be reduced to zero.

This will cause difficulties for many intensive pig and poultry producers with a small land-base who traditionally export their excess manure to comply with the regulation, Flanagan said.

As the Nitrates Action Plan is also up for review next year, with the next one set to run until 2021, Flanagan believes it would be appropriate to extend the transitional arrangements to the end of 2017 to correspond with the existing plan.

The MEP hopes that any changes that are required could then be incorporated into the next four-year tranche of the plan.

The MEP recognised that excess Phosphorus in groundwater can be a serious problem, but argued that recent research shows that most Irish soils are deficient in P – being index 1 or 2.

Within the context of the Food Harvest 2020, if Ireland doesn’t address its soil fertility problem it will lead to difficulties maintaining P at optimum levels for grass growth, he said.

This could lead to serious problems as there is a danger that thousands of tonnes of extra concentrates will be needed to feed the projected increase in stock numbers, he said.

Are organic fertilisers the answer?

New fertiliser regulations are also in the pipeline at EU level, which aim to open up the market and to provide harmonised standards for organic fertilisers produced from organic materials, he said.

The MEP believes that this new regulation could offer solutions and alternative options to intensive livestock producers in managing excess pig and poultry manure.

Flanagan urged the Minister to give this matter immediate attention as the pig and poultry sector is of vital importance to Ireland, especially in peripheral areas with marginal land.

These agricultural enterprises can compete on a level playing field with other areas of the country as they are not dependent on the quality and quantity of available land, he said.

In addition, he added, the fertiliser they provide to surrounding farmers, who generally are operating in the low-margin sectors of cattle and sheep rearing, is a real and tangible spin-off benefit.