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Improving Water Quality

Nitrates Advice

The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) which was adopted in 1991 has the objective of reducing water pollution caused or induced by nitrates from agricultural sources and preventing further such pollution. The primary emphasis is on the management of livestock manures and other fertilisers. In Ireland, the Nitrates Regulations also deal with managing phosphorus.

In January 2014 a revised action programme for Ireland was signed into law. S.I. 31 of 2014. This is also known as the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters) Regulations 2014. It is the regulation that governs the implementation of the Nitrates Directive in Ireland.

Under the Nitrates Regulations (S.I. 31 of 2014) farmers must not apply more than 170kgs of nitrogen from livestock manure per hectare per year. However, grassland farmers, with grazing stock, may apply annually for a derogation to apply up to a limit of 250kg per hectare in a calendar year, under certain conditions.

Measures under the Nitrates Regulations include:

  • the timing and procedures for the land application of fertilisers,
  • limits on the land application of fertilisers that are consistent with good agricultural practice,
  • storage requirements for livestock manure, and
  • general provisions on storage management.

Further Information

Managing the Farmyard

The Nitrate Regulations deal with three main areas of farmyard management:

  • Keeping soiled water to a minimum
  • Collecting effluents, organic fertilisers etc
  • Storing effluents and organic fertilisers properly

Keeping soiled water to a minimum

  • Divert all clean water to a clean water outfall
  • Prevent clean water from becoming soiled
  • Keep the amount of soiled water that is produced on your holding to a minimum
  • If soiled water is stored together with slurry, or if it becomes mixed with slurry, then as far as the Nitrates Regulations are concerned it is slurry and is subject to the same rules as slurry

Collecting effluents and organic fertilisers

Organic fertiliser is slurry, farmyard manure, sewage sludge, industrial sludges etc. aAll organic fertilisers, effluents and soiled waters must be collected and stored to prevent runoff or seepage, directly or indirectly, into groundwaters or surface water until applied to the land.

Maximising Storage Capacity

Constructing storage facilities for organic fertilisers on the farm is an option that cannot be taken likely. There are a number of other which should be explored before deciding to invest.

Managing organic fertilisers on the farm is essentially about effective recycling. Minimising the volumes to be stored, reduces the capacity of storage required and also the volumes to be spread. One of the best ways to ensure maximum storage capacity on the farm is to eliminate clean water entering storage tanks.

The separation of clean and dirty water requires careful planning, and regular maintenance of guttering and down pipes. All clean water should be directed away from organic fertiliser storage facilities into a sealed storm water system. This means the valuable storage capacity for potentially polluting materials can be maximised.

Example: If rain from a 4-bay single sided slatted shed roof in Galway enters a slurry tank, it will take up the equivalent slurry capacity of 15 suckler cows.

Storing Slurry

Storage facilities are required for:

  • livestock manure
  • dairy washings
  • soiled water*
  • effluents from dungsteads
  • effluents from farmyard manure pits
  • effluents from silage pits

All storage facilities for organic fertilisers must comply with the construction specifications from the Department of Agriculture and Food. They must be designed and constructed to prevent runoff and seepage directly or indirectly, into groundwater or surface water.

The Nitrates Regulations divide the country into three zones. Table 1 details the storage capacity that farmers need for organic fertiliser.

Table 1: Zones and storage requirements

Zone A Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow 16 weeks
Zone B Clare, Galway, Kerry, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath 18 weeks
Zone C (I) Donegal, Leitrim 20 weeks
Zone C (II) Monaghan, Cavan 22 weeks

Important deadlines to remember:

The dates below are inclusive.

  • Can spread chemical fertiliser in Zone A on the 13th January up to and including the 14th September
  • Can spread slurry (organic manure)in zone C on the 1st February up to and including the 14th October

Rules for reduced slurry storage requirement

A farmer may not have to provide the full storage where he/she satisfies any of the following:

  • The occupier of the holding has a contract providing exclusive access to adequate alternative storage capacity located outside the holding.
  • The occupier has a contract for access to a treatment facility for livestock manure, or
  • Has a contract for transfer of manure to an authorised person undertake the collection, recovery and disposal of the manure; and
  • Where the grassland stocking rate on a farm does not exceed 140kg N org/ha per year (equivalent to 1.65 Dairy cows/Ha) farmers can reduce their storage capacity requirement by taking into account outwintering of stock. Storage is required for all dairy cows on a holding regardless of the dairy cows being housed or outwintered.
  • There are grants available for slurry storage under TAMS II provided that the farm had adequate slurry storage already for existing stock numbers
Land Drainage on your Farm

Land drainage design varies with soil type and site conditions