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Fertiliser cuts, changes to excretion rates and crude protein feed levels in new Nitrates proposals

Fertiliser cuts, changes to excretion rates and crude protein feed levels in new Nitrates proposals

Following a meeting of the Agriculture Water Quality Group on February 29, a suite of measures have been proposed to improve water quality at farm level.

Subject to the appropriate assessment before the Minister for Housing, a public consultation and the updating of regulations relating to water quality, this proposed measures will apply at year end when determining farmer compliance with nitrates limits for 2024.

The proposals include: reduced maximum chemical nitrogen allowances for certain categories of grassland stocking rates; changes to nutrient excretion rates for young cattle; and a recognition of the impact reducing concentrate crude protein level can have on the excretion rates from dairy cows.

Speaking on the proposed measures after the meeting, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D said: “Last October, my Department requested that Teagasc undertake research regarding bovine nutrient excretion rates. This included consideration of the excretion rate of young bovines and the impact that reducing crude protein in concentrates fed to dairy cows has on the cow's nutrient excretion rate. The findings were thereafter reviewed and validated by University College Dublin.

“This work confirmed that excretion rates for young calves is lower than previously estimated, and that dairy farmers can reduce their cows’ nutrient excretion rate by limiting the level of crude protein in concentrate feed.”

Teagasc research found that the calf excretes 1kg of nitrogen in the first three months of life and excretes a further 20kg of nitrogen over the remaining nine months. As a result, and subject to proposal approval, two subcategories will be developed – calves aged 0-3 months and those aged 4-12 months – moving away from the current model where all 0-1 year old bovine animals are assigned a nitrogen excretion rate of 24kg/year. Additionally, the nitrogen excretion rate for cattle aged 1-2 will be amended to 55kg in respect of females and 61kg in respect of males to reflect the most recent scientific work.

Furthermore, dairy farmers will also be given the option to opt in to a measure relating to the crude protein content of the concentrates fed on their farms when selecting their dairy band through ICBF in the coming weeks. This will allow dairy farmers to gain recognition for reductions in concentrate crude protein beyond regulatory requirements.

Commenting further, Minister McConalogue said: “On foot of that research, I intend to bring these adjustments into the review of the 5th Nitrates Action Plan, which will be subject to Appropriate Assessment. Once signed into law, these figures will be used in determining a farm’s compliance for the 2024 year. To allow farmers to plan for proposed changes, I will be writing to farmers shortly to signpost the proposals going into the Appropriate Assessment.”

The Review of the Nitrates Action Plan will also propose a reduction in the maximum chemical allowance for grassland, and a reduction in the timeframe for reporting livestock manure movements between farms to allow for improved verification.

Although the proposed changes announced were described as being “relatively modest”, Minister McConalogue said they will benefit enterprises and farmers while also protecting water quality, adding: “I am confident that working together these initiatives will have a positive impact on water.”

The Minister concluded by welcoming the Water Quality Group’s engagement on these matters. He said: “I want to acknowledge the constructive input of the Water Quality Working Group. This work must continue so that we can place ourselves in the best position to secure our nitrates derogation post-2025.”

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