Saturday, 10 February, 2018


Commodity Watch

Written by UFU Senior Policy Officer Aileen Lawson

The UFU reminds farmers that the 1 March deadline for applying for a Nitrates Derogation is fast approaching. 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 (NIEA).  As the Nitrates Regulations are part of cross-compliance requirements, any breach will result in a Direct Support Payment penalty. 

To comply with the Nitrates Action Programme nitrogen loading limit of 170kgN/ha/year, farms may adopt a number of strategies which allow them to deal with any surplus organic nitrogen on farm.  This may include exporting slurry off the farm, 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. 

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 and are aimed at protecting the environment.  Under the EC rules, any farmer wishing to avail of a derogation have to apply annually to 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 (cattle and sheep); have at least 80% of agricultural land in grassland; shall not exceed a phosphorus balance of 10kgP/ha/year and soil sampling must be carried out every 4 years for each uniform area of the farm.  Each year farmers must also prepare a Fertilisation Plan and have this available on farm by 1 March, that should include various pieces of information including the management of manures and chemical fertiliser (a template is available).

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, the derogation option may well be the most suitable option for some farm businesses.  Derogation applications can be submitted online via the DAERA website.  Late applications will not be accepted so where required, farmers should act now to ensure these are with NIEA on time.


Farmers who are already operating within an approved 2017 derogation are required to submit a 2017 Fertilisation Account to NIEA by 1 March 2018 as well as an application form if they wish to continue at the higher stocking rate in 2018.  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.  This year, Fertilisation Accounts should be submitted online however, in order to do this NIEA must have a valid email address.  Any 2017 derogated farmers who have not provided this to NIEA should do so immediately to ensure accounts can be accessed and submitted online.

The UFU would also remind farmers who exported slurry off their farm in 2017, that export forms must be submitted to NIEA online also by 1 March 2018.