Nitrates Action Programme inspection report shows improved compliance

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The Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) aim is to improve water quality by protecting water against pollution caused by nutrients from agricultural sources and to prevent such pollution occurring in the future.

It also aims to ensure a more efficient use of nutrients and best practice in managing manures and chemical fertilisers. Each year a number of farm businesses are inspected by NIEA to assess compliance with this legislation.

The results from the 2014 NAP inspections show improved compliance with the record keeping, the nitrogen loading limit, the required capacity for slurry storage and the non-spread zones for fertiliser and manures near waterways. However, compliance levels dropped in relation to nitrate pollution and defective effluent storage. As these two areas account for a significant proportion of all recorded NAP breaches, it’s important that action is taken to minimise the risk of water pollution and avoid possible cross-compliance penalties.

Revised NAP for 2015-2018

NAP was subject to a review in 2014 and a revised NAP for 2015-2018 took effect from 1 January 2015. A number of changes have occurred, including the requirements to:

- submit annual records of all exports of organic manures off the farm by 31 January of the following year to NIEA;

- store silage bales at least 10m from any waterway and manage them in such a way as to prevent seepage into the waterway; and

- limit the storage of farmyard manure and poultry litter in a field heap to a maximum of 120 days. Only the amount of poultry litter that can be spread on that field can be stored in the field heap.

More information about the changes relating to those farmers who import and export manures will be published in press articles over the coming weeks.

Farm phosphorus surplus and water quality

Since 2007, when the NAP became applicable to all farmers in NI, good progress has been made in improving water quality. However, recent analysis highlights that there is a significant risk to the positive progress that has been achieved because of excess phosphorus (P). Farm phosphorus surpluses on 50% of non-derogated dairy farms are now between 10 kg P/ha/yr and 40 kg P/ha/yr. Concentrate feeding is one of the main sources of P on the farm.

If this imbalance continues, there could be implications for the next review of both the NAP and Phosphorus Regulations. High farm Phosphorus surpluses generally lead to high soil phosphorus levels and excess phosphorus is the main water quality problem in our rivers and lakes. A high surplus also means inefficient use of phosphorus. You can calculate your farm phosphorus balance using the online calculator http://www.dardni.gov.uk/onlineservices

NAP and Cross-Compliance

All farmers claiming under area-based schemes, including the Basic Payment Scheme, must meet the NI Cross-Compliance conditions. NAP forms part of these requirements, therefore where farmers do not comply with NAP, their area-based payments may be reduced. Farmers therefore need to remain vigilant at all times, paying particular attention to check the waterways on their farms for signs of pollution and checking all slurry storage facilities, including effluent tanks for any defects.

The new NAP 2015 – 2018 guidance book and the summary document is available on the DARD website (http://www.dardni.gov.uk/nitrates-action-programme) and on the water section of the NIEA website (http://www.doeni.gov.uk/niea). Further information about Cross-Compliance is also available on the DARD website (http://www.dardni.gov.uk).