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Minister outlines intention to bring forward Nitrates Proposals

Following a meeting of the Agriculture Water Quality Group, which took place on Thursday, 29 February, Minister Charlie McConalogue T.D. announced a number of initiatives to improve water quality, as well as adjustments to the way nitrogen excretion rates from calves and cows would be calculated, that follow on from scientific work carried out by Teagasc.

"The changes announced, whilst relatively modest, will benefit enterprises and farmers while also protecting water quality."

Speaking after the meeting, the Minister 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.

“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.

Minister McConalogue said:

“The changes announced, whilst relatively modest, will benefit enterprises and farmers while also protecting water quality.  In Budget 2024, I announced the continuation of accelerated capital allowances for investments in manure storage facilities and changes to TAMs for farmers that want to build additional slurry storage facilities. 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.

“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.”

The changes will be subject to the Appropriate Assessment process before the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien T.D. whose department is responsible for this legislation can amend the Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters Regulations (SI No. 113 of 2022).

Ends

Notes for Editors

A number of key measures proposed for the Appropriate Assessment under the Interim review of the Nitrates Action Programme are outlined below. A full list of all measures will be published in due course.

Subject to the Appropriate Assessment process, including the outcome of the associated public consultation, and updating of the Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters Regulations (SI No. 113 of 2022, as amended), proposed measures 1-3 below will apply at year end when determining farmer compliance with nitrates limits for 2024.

Proposed measures 

1. Changes to nutrient excretion rates for young bovines

Teagasc research shows the calf excretes 1kg of nitrogen in the first three months of its life.  While it excretes a further 20kg of nitrogen over the remaining nine months.  Subject to conclusion of the process, the current annual excretion rate of 24kg of nitrogen for the 0–1-year-old animal will be updated to reflect two sub-categories the calf aged 0-3 months and cattle aged 4-12 months.  The nutrient excretion rate for cattle aged 1-2 will be amended to 55kg in respect of Females and 61kg in respect of Males reflecting most recent scientific work. 

2. Recognising the impact of reducing crude protein in concentrates fed to dairy cows

Dairy farmers will have the option to gain recognition for reductions in concentrate crude protein beyond regulatory requirements.  In line with Teagasc research, appropriate reductions in nutrient excretion rate will apply across all three milk yield bands.  Farmer will have the option to consider their own position and the average annual level of concentrate crude protein they wish to feed to their herd when they are confirming their dairy band through ICBF in the coming weeks.  When that portal opens farmers will be able to see the position for their own herd and opt-in to this measure if they wish.

3. Changes to maximum chemical nitrogen allowances for grassland

There will be reduced maximum chemical nitrogen allowances for certain categories of grassland stocking.  

4. Reduced timeframe for reporting livestock manure movements

To allow inspection on the ground to verify slurry movements, the Department is moving to a timeframe of four days for reporting livestock manure movements between farms. This will be rolled out in the coming weeks allowing farmers sufficient time to declare any movements of manure that have already taken place in 2024.