New Nutrients Action Programme

Friday, 7 February, 2020

Commodity watch by senior policy officer, Aileen Lawson

In 2019, DAERA reached agreement with the European Commission (EC) on a new Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) for Northern Ireland replacing the previous Nitrates Action Programme and Phosphorus (use in agriculture) Regulations. The Nitrates derogation was also approved following intensive scrutiny by the EC.

Prior to EC approval, DAERA had undertaken a consultation with NI stakeholders.  The UFU fought hard and this resulted in DAERA making several changes to their original proposals. Many of these if implemented, would have caused significant issues on farms. Despite these wins, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) remain concerned that there are new rules that will have to be adhered to and will result in changes for farm businesses.

The UFU urges members to make themselves aware of the new Nutrients Action Programme requirements to ensure they are compliant, and they can keep their payments safe, as well as protecting the environment. 

Poultry farmers should note the amendments to excretion rates for different poultry production systems; poultry farmers must make sure they are using the correct figures when calculating the N loading on their farm.

Another change that has been introduced is new spreading restrictions in February and October. Farmers spreading slurry during the month of February and in early October will have to 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 percent

The maximum slurry application rate when spreading in February has been reduced from 50m3/ha (4500gallons/acre) to 30m3/ha (2700gallons/acre) at any one time. 

Dairy farmers should be aware that from 1 January 2020, the N excretion rate has been increased from 91kgN/cow/year to 100kgN/cow/year. This will result in dairy farmers requiring more land per cow place to meet the Nitrogen loading limits (170kgN/ha/year).  On the plus side, N excretion rates for the other categories of cattle have decreased slightly. Farmers above the 170 kgN/ha/year limit should consider applying for a derogation. The deadline for applying for a nitrates derogation is 1 March, therefore the UFU would urge dairy farmers to relook at their N loading now using the new figures to allow them time to consider their options. 

There are additional requirements imposed by the EC for derogated farmers such as the requirement to use LESSE when spreading slurry after 15 June each year. The UFU has urged NIEA and the Minister to take a practical approach to this requirement this year given the difficulties obtaining LESSE etc. 

Rules around the use of phosphorus fertiliser have got tougher to ensure chemical fertiliser containing phosphorus is only used where it is needed. The rules around spreading chemical phosphorus will now be part of cross-compliance and farmers must carry out soil testing and keep additional records to prove the need for P fertiliser.  Applying excess phosphorus is costly for the farmer and the environment therefore, it is vital that farmers get their soils tested and if necessary either attend training on nutrient management or, seek expert advice on fertiliser applications to avoid unnecessary applications.

Further changes to the rules require that any farmer spreading anaerobic digestate must only use LESSE, carry out soil analysis and to keep additional records. 

Any new above ground slurry tanks must be sited 50m from a waterway and must be covered. Where there could be a significant risk of pollution from their use, supplementary feeding sites must be a minimum of 20m from any waterway. 

From 2021, contractors must only spread slurry using LESSE and from 2022 this rule will come in for all farmers with more than 200 livestock units (pig farms with more than 20,000kg N).

The Department have issued a summary of the new measures to all farmers and this can also be found on the DAERA website. The UFU has been working with DAERA, NIEA and other stakeholders to ensure the revised NAP guidance booklet being produced to interpret and explain the new regulations is practical and useful for farmers. This is still being updated but should soon be available. The UFU urges members to ensure they are complying as any breaches could result in penalties being applied to their area payments.