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September deadline for derogation water quality review

September deadline for derogation water quality review

The Nitrates Derogation, the means by which some Irish farmers can surpass a 170kg/ha limit of organic nitrogen on their grassland area, will be reviewed in 2023.

Across the European Union, Ireland – along with the Netherlands, Denmark and the Flanders region of Belgium - are the only member states in which a Nitrates Derogation is operated.

“At this stage, all other member states have either given up on seeking a derogation or have been refused a derogation by the [European] Commission,” Ted Massey, inspector in the Nitrates and Biodiversity Division in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, told a recent Teagasc Signpost Series Webinar, adding; “and the derogation that the Dutch have at present very clearly sets out a trajectory to transition them out of derogation by the end of 2025 and states that they will not be granted a further derogation”.

Back in March, Ireland secured an extension of the Nitrates Derogation to cover the period 2022 to 2025 on the basis that it would have no negative impacts on water quality.

“In light of that,” Massey said, “the commission imposed additional conditionality on us. And in their implementing decision, one element of that additional conditionality was the requirement for us to undertake a two-year water quality review in 2023 and that’s effectively comparing water quality data that the EPA have for 2021 with data for 2022.

“And where that review identifies polluted waters or where there are worsening trends in water quality the maximum stocking rate on farms in that catchment must reduce from the current 250kg of livestock nitrogen back to a maximum of 220kg from 2024 onwards.”

It is hoped that this review will be finalised by the early summer, but the European Commission requires it to be completed by September 2023 at the latest, he noted.

“At this stage, we don’t know what the outcome of the review will be, but there is a risk that significant areas and potentially all of the country could see itself moving to a maximum stocking rate of 220kg nitrogen [per hectare] from 2024 onwards,” Massey said, adding; “and for us going back to the commission and seeking a further extension to our Nitrates Derogation in 2025, water quality is going to be crucial for us”.

“We can argue – and we will argue – that Ireland is unique. We have a grass-based system, very different to our continental European colleagues. However, if we don’t see a reversal in those negative trends in water quality, it will become very difficult for us to secure an extension to our Nitrates Derogation in particular when there are less and less countries in receipt of a derogation,” he noted.

Read more: Eight week window for Nitrates Derogation applications