During the last few years a number of farmers have been breached for exceeding the 170 kg N/ha/year nitrogen loading limit under the Northern Ireland Nitrates Action Programme by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
As the Nitrates Regulations are part of cross-compliance requirements, any breach will result in a Single Farm Payment penalty.
To comply with the Nitrates Action Programme nitrogen loading limit, farms may adopt a number of strategies which allow them to deal with any surplus organic nitrogen on farm. This may include exporting slurry, renting additional land, reducing livestock numbers or applying for a derogation if the criteria can be met. In some cases applying for a derogation might be the most cost effective option.
Due to changes to the Single Farm Payment regime this year, many farmers have found that there are changes to the land parcels that they are farming. If land is no longer available to a farmer, they could find themselves over the 170kgN/ha/year limit for the first time this year and therefore may wish to consider applying for a derogation to ensure compliance with the Nitrates rules.
A nitrates derogation allows a higher organic nitrogen loading of up to 250 kg N/ha/year on some farms. All other farms in Northern Ireland must comply with an organic nitrogen loading limit of 170 kg N/ha/year.
The EC insist that farmers applying for a derogation must comply with additional criteria which are similar across Europe. Under the EC rules, any farmer wishing to avail of a derogation have to apply annually to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) by 1 March and must comply with additional measures.
To be eligible for derogation, farms must operate below 250kgN/ha/year from grazing livestock manure; have at least 80% of agricultural land in grassland; shall not exceed a phosphorus balance of 10kgP/ha/year; soil sample at least every 4 hectares of land every 4 years and meet other land management conditions. Each year farmers must also prepare and have available on farm by 1 March, a fertilisation plan that should include various pieces of information including the management of manures and chemical fertiliser.
Farmers must also prepare and submit to NIEA a fertilisation account by 1 March for the previous calendar year.
The UFU would urge any farmer who feels that they may need a derogation to seriously consider their options now and if necessary submit an application to NIEA by the 1 March closing date. While the additional requirements may seem off-putting, in reality farmers operating under a derogation will not be required to do significantly more paperwork than the average farmer exporting slurry therefore the derogation option may well be the most suitable option for a farm business.
Approximately 170 farms submitted derogation applications to the NIEA in 2014. These farmers are all required to submit a 2014 Fertilisation Account to NIEA by 1 March 2015 and an application form if they wish to continue at the higher stocking rate in 2015. Any farmer submitting a Fertilisation Account should complete this accurately and ensure that the detail submitted meets the criteria set for the derogation to avoid any breaches.
Farmers who wish to apply for a 2015 derogation should request an application form from the NIEA on 028 92623189 or from the NIEA website http://www.doeni.gov.uk/niea/water-home/agri_regs/derogation.htm.
The deadline for applications is 1 March 2015 and these must be returned to NIEA in Lisburn.
Farmers should note that the 1 March 2015 falls on a Sunday therefore should ensure any postal applications are received before this date. For those opting to hand deliver applications, the security hut at the gates to NIEA, Antrim Road, Lisburn will be able to receive applications over the weekend of 28 February/1 March.
Late applications will not be accepted and fertilisation accounts received after 1 March will result in breaches being applied therefore, farmers should ensure that they arrive with NIEA before the deadline.