UFU calls for common sense approach to proposed changes to Nitrates Action Programme

Thursday, 28 August, 2014

The Ulster Farmers’ Union is calling on the Department of Agriculture (DARD) and the Department of the Environment (DOE) to take a “common sense approach” and to “think practically” about the proposed changes to the Nitrates Action Programme. The comments were made following the UFU’s August Executive meeting where the Union’s response to the DARD/DOE consultation on the EU Commission’s review of Northern Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme was finalised.

Following the Executive meeting, UFU president Ian Marshall said; “While we welcome some of the amendments farmers are seriously concerned about the majority of the proposed changes to NI’s current Nitrates Action Programme, which if implemented will have a hugely detrimental effect on local farm businesses and in fact the entire agri-food industry as a whole. We therefore cannot accept the majority of the changes suggested. In particular the proposed requirement to cover new outdoor slurry stores from 1 January 2017 and farmers having to submit manure import/export records annually to NIEA, will only add additional cost, paper work and frustration into farm businesses. Disappointingly, many of the proposed changes that would be the most difficult to comply with have been developed by DARD and DOE and do not appear to be required by the EU Commission.

“Farmers recognise the importance of caring for the environment, after all that is where our livelihoods are based. It is already evident that the current regulations are having a positive impact on the environment. Farmers have adapted well to a complicated programme and should be given credit for the efforts and investments they have made in helping improve water quality in Northern Ireland. The substantial reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers on our farms and the improved utilisation of manures has significantly increased overall nitrogen and phosphorus efficiency.    

“DARD and DOE need to think practically and focus on helping farmers to deliver solutions that will continue to improve water quality further rather than relying solely on regulation and enforcement. The Union believes that these Departments should be wholeheartedly opposing the EU Commission’s suggested changes and certainly not adding more complex regulations or trying to ‘gold plate’ the next Nitrates Action Programme. I would expect DARD and DOE instead to be fighting to retain the current programme measures in order to prevent unnecessary costs and regulatory burden being imposed on Northern Ireland farmers. This is especially crucial if the agri-food industry is to achieve the NI Executive supported targets set out by the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s ‘Going for Growth’ report. Unnecessary additional red tape and bureaucracy will only hamper the growth and development of our industry, which is undeniably a cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s overall economy.”