The Northern Irish farming industry has secured an approval from the European Union for the renewal of a nitrates derogation.
Northern Ireland's Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) has been in place since 2007 and implements the EU Nitrates Directive to protect rivers, lakes and groundwaters from pollution by nutrients from agricultural sources.
Following a consultation period on the proposed NAP for 2019 - 2022, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has made a range of changes for the Northern Irish farming industry.
These include the removal of the ban on the use of Urea chemical fertiliser, subject to further consideration, and the removal of the requirement to cover existing above ground slurry stores.
While DAERA are introducing a requirement for larger farms to spread slurry using Low Emission Spreading Equipment (LESSE), the thresholds have been changed as a result of the consultation.
The consultation figure of 100 livestock units has been changed to 200 livestock units for cattle farms and the threshold for pig farms has been changed from 10,000 kg in the consultation to 20,000 kg of manure nitrogen production per year.
Other changes include reduced fertilisation requirements and simplifications to reduce the administrative requirements on farmers and inclusion of flexibility on some measures.
The derogation is important for many cattle farms as it enables them to maintain cattle numbers and production levels by implementing additional environmental management measures. The new derogation will cover the period 2019 – 2022.
A DAERA spokesman said: “We have worked tirelessly to strike an appropriate balance between the needs of the environment, the need to comply with our legal requirements and the need to support the agri-food industry.
"This is a significant step forward in protecting the environment whilst ensuring we have a sustainable agri-food sector. The new NAP will help to ensure the progress that has been achieved in improving water quality in our rivers and lakes over the past 12 years continues.”
The spokesman added: “The timescale to progress these issues has been very challenging, particularly in relation to the fixed dates for the EU Nitrates Committee. However, confirmation of an approved four year derogation has provided much needed certainty to the industry and I’m positive it will be welcomed by those affected.”
The EU Nitrates Committee approved the renewal of the Northern Ireland Nitrates Derogation on 27 March 2019, voting unanimously to approve the derogation.