Farmers must be aware of Nutrients Action Programme rules

Picture: Cliff Donaldson

As we approach the end of the closed period, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) urges members to make themselves aware of the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) requirements to ensure they are compliant and they can keep their payments safe, as well as protecting the environment.

Rules were updated a few years ago with new restrictions for spreading in February and early October.  Farmers spreading slurry during the month of February must abide by increased buffer zones in fields adjacent to waterways.

These are as follows;

  • From 20m to 30m from lakes
  • From 10m to 15m from any waterway
  • From 3m to 5m if using Low Emission Slurry Spreading Equipment (LESSE) provided the land has a slope of less than 10%.

The maximum slurry application rate when spreading in February was reduced from 50m3/ha (4500gallons/acre) to 30m3/ha (2700gallons/acre) at any one time. Slurry and other organic manures must only be spread when soil and land conditions are appropriate in line with the NAP requirements.

Contractors are also required to comply with these rules so they too should make themselves familiar with the various restrictions so that they remain compliant.

Farmers are also reminded that the deadline to submit records of slurry and all other organic manures exported from farms during 2023 is fast approaching. Any farm exporting slurry, chicken litter or manure to another farm must submit this information online to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) by the end of January 2024.

Under the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) for Northern Ireland (NI), farmers must be able to show they meet the 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare limit over a year. This is effectively a stocking limit and while in NI over 90 percent of farms are working under this limit, those that are over the 170kgN/ha/year must take action to ensure cross compliance penalties are avoided. Farmers can choose to export slurry in order to meet this limit however, they must record and submit this information online by 31 January.

Farmers above the 170 kgN/ha/year limit should consider applying for a derogation if they can meet the criteria. The deadline for applying for a nitrates derogation is 1 March 2024, therefore UFU would urge farmers to relook at their N loading now to allow them time to consider their options.

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 UFU would urge any farmer who feels that they may need a derogation to submit an application online to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) by the 1 March closing date. While the additional requirements may seem off-putting, the derogation option may well be the most suitable option for a farm business.

Farmers who are already operating within an approved derogation for 2023 are required to submit a Fertilisation Account to NIEA by 1 March 2024 and an application form if they wish to continue at the higher stocking rate in 2024. Failure to submit a Fertilisation Account could result in penalties being applied to area payments.

Anyone who requires assistance or would like further clarification on rules can contact their UFU technical officer for more information.