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Action needed to avoid ‘uphill battle’ on future nitrates derogations

Action needed to avoid ‘uphill battle’ on future nitrates derogations

The future of Ireland’s nitrates derogation is dependent on farmers making the right choices and implementing measures to improve water quality, according to Eoghan O’Brien, Teagasc Sustainability Advisor.

Speaking as part of an ASSAP / Signpost Programme webinar for farmers in the Wicklow/Carlow/Wicklow region on Tuesday, January 23rd, Eoghan said: “Farmers have a choice now in which direction they choose to go for water quality.

“In 2025, Ireland is going to apply for our next nitrates derogation and what will be looked for is a stabilisation or improvement in water quality. Water quality improvements not only effect securing future nitrates derogations, they will play a crucial role in any new measures farmers will be required to comply with as part of Ireland’s sixth Nitrates Action Programme, which is due to come into effect from January 1st 2026.”

Given the importance of water quality to the above mentioned, Eoghan said farmers must endeavour to make a positive impact on water quality and to avoid the securing of future nitrates derogations becoming an “uphill battle”.

“Farmers need to realise the time is now. We can’t wait any longer. The actions that are carried out in the next few months, next few weeks and next few days will have an effect on water quality.

“What we do from here on in will have an effect on whether we secure a derogation going forward and whether we can farm with the same nitrates rules for those farmers that aren’t in derogation.”

Investment in slurry storage

One action farmers can take to limit the losses of nutrients to water is to only apply slurry when soil conditions are optimal and crops are growing, Neilus Nunan, a Teagasc Sustainability Advisor based in Wexford and joining Eoghan on the webinar explained.

For this to be achieved, however, investment is required in slurry storage facilities at farm level. Neilus added that supports are available to aid in the development of such facilities, with grant aid available through TAMS and accelerated capital allowances in play to allow farmers write off these investments over a shorter period of time.

Farmers also heard how changes pertaining to soiled water or dairy washing spreading regulations will mean additional storage is required on many farms.

 “We need separate storage for soiled water or dairy washings in most cases now,” Neilus added.

“If the dairy washings are going into the main slurry tanks that puts pressure on the overall requirement for storage; when soiled water mixes with slurry, it becomes slurry and you need storage for 16 weeks [in Zone A].

“The ideal thing is to have the dairy washings stored in a separate tank. The new rules this year mean that the month of December in 2024 is off limits for spreading soiled water or dairy washings, so we need a tank that is capable of storing soiled water for 31 days - that's a challenge for this year.”