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Nitrates Derogation Approved – supporting farmers, protecting water quality

15 October, 2007

Sinn Féin Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, and Environment Minister Arlene Foster MLA, have announced the approval of a derogation, under the Nitrates Directive.

The regional derogation received a favourable vote today at a meeting of the EU Nitrates Committee in Brussels.

Minister Gildernew commended the decision:

"The Commission's decision is of crucial importance to our dairy sector. We have achieved a balanced and workable derogation that will allow farmers make the most of grass-based production, while also protecting water quality. Grassland farms that meet the conditions will be allowed to apply cattle manure up to a maximum of 250kg Nitrogen per hectare per year."

Both Ministers agreed that their derogation application was based on a comprehensive submission and detailed scientific justification of Northern Ireland's environmental and agricultural objectives. They confirmed that a Guidance Booklet and application details would be published in early 2008, and that in addition, the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) would organise a series of information workshops to support those farmers considering applying for a derogation.

Finally, both ministers thanked staff in their respective departments for their hard work on this issue, in particular the scientific staff at Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

1. The Nitrates Action Programme Regulations 2006 came into operation on 1 January 2007 and established measures to control the application and storage of livestock manures and fertilisers, which apply to all farms in the North of Ireland. The objective is to improve water quality in rivers and lakes.

2. Under the terms of the Nitrates Directive, Member States which introduce a compliant action programme may apply for a derogation from the statutory 170kg Nitrogen per hectare per year livestock manure limit specified by the Directive.

3. The terms of the derogation are set by the European Commission and must be compatible with achieving the objectives of the Nitrates Directive and other environmental Directives.

4. Farms operating under a derogation are required to adopt additional nutrient management measures to ensure that operating at a higher livestock manure limit does not adversely impact on water quality.

5. The main criteria of the NI derogation are:

• an annual application by the farmer to DOE Environment and Heritage Service;
• an application limit of 250kg per hectare per year of manure from grazing livestock (cattle, sheep, deer and goats);
• 80% of the agricultural area of the farm to be grassland;
• a farm phosphorus balance limit of 10kg Phosphorus per hectare per year;
• the production and maintenance of fertilisation plans and accounts annually;

6. Joint DOE/DARD Regulations will implement the derogation in early 2008.

7. The derogation application involved the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department of Environment, the Environment and Heritage Service, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise.

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