Teagasc is reminding tillage farmers that the new Nitrates Directive regulations will be in place for the 2022 harvest.

The directive is focused on protecting water across the country and there has been a number of changes to all sections of agriculture from previous versions.

While there have been no changes to the fertiliser amounts allowed on tillage crops, there are two changes that will impact on tillage farmers.

Firstly, there is the requirement to stubble cultivate all land after harvest this year. Farmers are required to shallow cultivate the soil or sow a crop within seven days of baling of straw.

Where straw is chopped again, shallow cultivation or sowing must take place within seven days of harvest. In all cases, cultivation or sowing must take place within 14 days of harvest.

The idea of this is to trap any residual nitrogen (N) left behind in the soil after the crop has been harvested. Where there are no plants using this N, it is being washed out into groundwater.

Nitrates Directive for Harvest 2022

The second issue that is written into the document is in relation to late-harvested crops (e.g., beet, potatoes, maize) or late-harvested spring cereal crops. A minimum buffer of 6m shall be in place to protect any intersecting watercourses.

The aim of this measure is to prevent surface runoff from fields into rivers and streams.

While these new regulations will add considerable pressure to tillage farmers at what is already a very busy time, growers need to be aware that they are now law, and therefore must plan for them.

This is the first Nitrates Action Programme whereby not all measures introduced during the review have been incorporated into a new set of Good Agricultural Practice Regulations.

During discussions with Irish stakeholders, and the deliberations of the Nitrates Expert Group, it become clear that a wider, more holistic approach to controlling nutrient and sediment losses from agriculture is needed at this stage.

It is clear that there needs to be greater alignment between different environmental protection policies at a national and European level. In particular, the EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies for 2030 have set ambitious targets for the agricultural sector.

In Ireland, the links between water quality plans and programmes, biodiversity strategies and climate adaptation plans needs to be developed to ensure we are achieving multiple benefits for as many implementation measures as possible, according to Teagasc.

There are natural links between the measures required to protect each of these areas and it is the aim of the new Nitrates Directive to ensure these links are strengthened as much as possible.