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Coughlan welcomes proposed amendments to Nitrate Regulations

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan, TD, has welcomed the submission to the European Commission by her colleague, Mr Dick Roche, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, of proposals for amendments to the Nitrates Regulations. She said the submission represents a very significant effort on the part of the Government to resolve what has been a difficult and complex issue. The submission provides for a workable balance between flexibility and practicality and should lead to an acceptable conclusion of this issue all around.

Minister Coughlan recalled that following the adoption of the Nitrates Regulations in December last, Teagasc indicated that it would provide revised advice in relation to Phosphorus limits. Some parts of the Nitrates Regulations were deferred to allow time for this to be done and both she and Minister Roche made it clear at the time that Teagasc proposals for revised Phosphorus limits supported by robust science would be put to the European Commission. She added that Teagasc had submitted its revised advice to her in March and it covered not only Phosphorus but also Nitrogen limits as well as other matters. All of the advice received was considered in depth by the two Departments and Teagasc was consulted on the detail on a number of occasions. The Minister said she was happy that both Departments had now concluded their consideration of the Teagasc submission allowing Minister Roche to make proposals for substantial amendment of the December Regulations.

The proposed amendments address a range of important issues identified in the Teagasc submission and raised by the farming bodies.

Minister Coughlan said that the changes proposed to the Commission will be of major benefit to Irish farmers. They will ensure much improved flexibility for farmers in complying with fertiliser limits and also deliver a significant level of simplification in understanding the Nitrates requirements, the Minister added. Minister Coughlan believed that the revised fertiliser limits will ensure the appropriate balance between crop requirements and optimum fertiliser application. She said that the transitional provisions will allow the pigs, poultry and mushroom sectors time to investigate new outlets for their manure or new ways of processing manure. In this regard, Minister Coughlan reminded farmers of the inclusion of specialised items such as decanter centrifuge systems and feeding systems for pigs in the Farm Waste Management scheme and her proposals for grant-aiding new technology of particular interest to the pig and poultry sectors.

Minister Coughlan stressed the importance of farmers availing of the extremely generous grants made available by the Government specifically aimed at ensuring the necessary manure storage to comply with the Nitrates Regulations. This was a once-off opportunity which all farmers requiring to increase on-farm manure storage should avail of and there is evidence of very high uptake of the scheme so far this year. She had made proposals for revising the standard costings for the scheme. While she was awaiting the necessary approval from the Minister for Finance, she was happy to make a commitment that the increases when agreed would be back-dated to works approved since the beginning of 2006.

In conclusion, Minister Coughlan spoke of the importance now of securing Commission agreement to the changes in the Nitrates Regulations at the earliest date. Today's development creates the conditions for the recommencement of negotiations on a derogation which is so necessary for a large number of our intensive farmers. Minister Coughlan said that she would continue to work with Minister Roche towards these objectives.

18 May 2006

Date Released: 18 May 2006