Environment Minister Mark H Durkan and Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill have announced details of the Nitrates Directive Action Programme (NAP) for the next four years.
The new Action Programme will come into effect on 1 January 2015.
Minister O’Neill said: “Good work by farmers on the ground, and by the Departments working closely with stakeholders during the last four years, has helped us to secure agreement in Brussels on the next Nitrates Action Programme and renewal of our Derogation. I believe we have a balanced Action Programme which is practical for farmers to implement, effective for protecting and improving water quality and meets our obligations under the Nitrates Directive.”
Outlining the benefits of the Derogation, Minister O’Neill added: “Operating under a derogation enables grassland cattle farms maximise the efficient and sustainable use of manures for grass production. It can be the most cost effective option for many intensively stocked cattle farms. As the derogation helps to protect water quality and promotes best farming practice, I would encourage more farmers to consider applying next year to benefit from the provision which we have worked hard to secure.”
Highlighting the effectiveness of NAPs in protecting the environment, Minister Durkan said: “The new action programme and renewed derogation will build on improvements in water quality and agricultural nutrient management seen over the period of the last two action programmes. The majority of the measures in the current programme are being carried forward. While there are some changes, these will be implemented in a way that minimises any additional burden or cost to farmers whilst still protecting the environment.
“Approval recently secured in Brussels followed a lengthy application process and detailed scrutiny by the European Commission and all other EU Member States of the scientific case we put forward to support our application. Our next four year programme is therefore the conclusion of detailed review and also reflects the comments made during the public consultation here.”
Both ministers encouraged farmers to keep up their commitment to good farming practice and protecting the environment. They thanked farmers and stakeholders from the agricultural industry and environmental organisations for their positive participation in the review process which will continue to be key to the successful implementation of the next Action Programme.
A summary leaflet on the Nitrates Action Programme for 2015-2018 will be available on the DARD and DOE websites in January 2015.
A comprehensive updated guidance booklet for farmers will be prepared with input from key stakeholders and will be published in early 2015.
Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall has said that while farmers will be relieved that a number of concerning additional requirements had been removed prior to agreement, complying with the programme still remains a difficult challenge.
Mr Marshall, pictured, said: “The union’s target has been to secure a revised Action Programme which meets the objective of protecting and improving our local water quality while at the same time ensuring the practical details are workable for farmers. This has been our message throughout the process and having seen the final details of the new Nitrates Action Programme for the period 2015 to 2018, I am pleased that for the most part common sense has prevailed and some of the more extreme initial proposals which we opposed, such as the requirement to cover new outdoor slurry stores, have been dropped.
“We are however very disappointed that farmers will be facing more paperwork and increased bureaucracy as those who export organic manures will now be required to submit associated records annually to NIEA.”
He added: “The union lobbied hard to see this new requirement dropped but unfortunately, the EU Commission has made it clear that this was non-negotiable.”