Stricter nitrates regulations for heavily stocked farms kick in

With 2021 now here, new nitrogen regulations are now in effect for farmers who are stocked at over 170kg organic nitrogen (N) per hectare and are not currently in the nitrates derogation.

The move, which was announced by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Darragh O’Brien in November, saw a suite of measures introduced on Friday, January 1, 2021.

The new measures introduce a requirement in relation to liming, the use of low emission slurry spreading (LESS) technology and reducing crude protein in concentrates on those farms at over 170kg organic N per Ha and who currently do not avail of the nitrates derogation.

According to the Department of Agriculture, some of these measures already apply to nitrates derogation applicants.

These amendments introduce previously flagged measures for intensively stocked farmers who export slurry to comply with stocking rate limits.

Approximately 7,000 farms apply for derogation annually with another 5,000 farmers exceeding the limit of 170kg Organic N/Ha but who export slurry to comply with the limits and avoid applying for derogation.

These amendments introduce measures for this cohort of 5,000 similar to derogation farmers and thereby removing the potential benefits at farm level to avoiding derogation, it was added.

Two of these measures are applicable from January 1, 2021. These are:
  • A requirement to tailor crude protein to an animal’s dietary requirements; and
  • A requirement to apply lime where soil analysis results show an agronomic need.

In addition, from April 15, 2021, these farmers must use low emission slurry spreading equipment.

Meanwhile, another new measure states that a liming programme shall be prepared and must establish: a lime application programme for the farm; and a calculation of liming requirements for each parcel to achieve optimum pH.

Regarding crude protein, a maximum crude protein content of 15% is permissible in concentrate feedstuff fed to grazing livestock on the holding between April 1, and September 15. Records of crude protein content of concentrate feedstuff shall be kept, the regulation adds.

This requirement focuses on dairy cows and cattle over two years, and does not apply to cattle under two years of age. If higher levels of crude protein are required, this needs to be justified and certified by the appropriate advisor, the department says.

The liming programme will be four years in duration with a minimum 25% of lime spread in 2021.

Lime applied prior to 2021 can be included in the requirements for a liming programme provided it was spread post soil analysis. The balance of lime must be spread over the four-year programme commencing 2021.

Under this regulation, lime application for the entire farm must be recorded and retained on the holding along with the relevant invoices.

Nitrogen excretion figure for dairy cow increases

Finally, it is also important to note that the nitrogen excretion figure for dairy cows has been updated following a review last year.

A technical amendment has also been made to increase the nitrogen excretion figure for the average dairy cow from 85kg to 89kg of nitrogen which impacts on all dairy farmers.

The purpose of the new on-farm measures is “to improve efficiencies and continue to reduce environmental footprint with particular regard to water, climate and air quality”, the department says.