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Nitrates Directive

What is the Nitrates Directive?

The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) has been in place since 1991. It aims to protect water quality from pollution by agricultural sources and to promote the use of good farming practice. All EU Member States are required to prepare National Nitrates Action Programmes (NAP) that outline the rules for the management and application of livestock manures and other fertilisers.

What is Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme?

Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme is designed to prevent pollution of surface waters and ground water from agricultural sources and to protect and improve water quality. Ireland’s fourth NAP came into operation in 2017 and will be reviewed in 2021.

Each Member State’s NAP must include:

  • a limit on the amount of livestock manure applied to the land each year
  • set periods when land spreading is prohibited due to risk
  • set capacity levels for the storage of livestock manure

Member States are also required to review their NAP at least every four years. Ireland’s current Action Programme will be reviewed  during 2021.

The European Union (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations commonly referred to as the “Nitrates Regulations” or “GAP Regulations” give legal effect to Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme. The most recent Regulations are listed below.

Local Authorities are responsible for enforcing the Nitrates Regulations. Any perceived breaches within their catchment should be brought to their immediate attention.

The Slurry Spreading Calendar

Slurry cannot be spread on land from 15 October to January 12 / 15th / 31st (depending on which part of the country a farm is located).  Closed periods are a feature of the Directive in all Member States.  The closed periods in Ireland were decided following a period of extensive public consultation and were agreed with farming bodies and the European Commission.

All land spreading activity is conditional on weather and ground conditions being suitable.  Livestock manures or any chemical fertilisers should not be applied to land when it is waterlogged, flooded or likely to flood, frozen or if heavy rain is forecasted within 48 hours.

What is Irelands Derogation?

In 2018, Ireland was granted a derogation to allow intensive farmers a higher stocking rate of livestock manure, subject to them complying with strict rules that are overseen by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The derogation increases the application limit of 170kg/ha of livestock manure to 250kg/ha each year.  In Ireland, the derogation is of critical importance to the dairy industry and Food Harvest 2020 expansion plans. The current derogation will run to the end of 2021, when the fourth programme concludes.