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Coveney and Hogan announce details of Ireland's 3rd Nitrates Action Programme

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan TD, today announced that the review of Ireland’s 2nd Nitrate Action Programme has been concluded and a revised 3rd Programme has been finalised.  This 3rd Programme will run until the end of 2017.

The new Action Programme will support the environmentally progressive outcomes achieved under the first two Programmes and will continue to secure consistency with the EU Nitrates Directive” said Minister Hogan “We have seen an improvement in water quality in the last number of years and it is important that we build on this over the next period”, Minister Hogan added.

A comprehensive public consultation process commenced in May 2013 and 30 submissions were received from a wide range of stakeholders. A jointly chaired (DECLG and DAFM) Expert Review Group was convened to consider all submissions received during public consultation and make recommendations on any changes to the Programme.  This work has been completed and the group has presented its findings to the two Ministers.  The Report of the Expert Group has been published on both Departments’ websites.

We would like to extend our gratitude both to the Expert Review Group and the 30 individuals and bodies that made a submission,” the Ministers stated.

All recommendations of the Group were accepted by the Ministers and formed the basis of discussion with the EU Commission.

The overall package will assist Ireland’s agri-food sector in working towards its targets under Food Harvest 2020, in a sustainable manner”, said Minister Coveney and he added, “In particular, this package paves the way for a formal vote on Ireland’s derogation in the coming weeks”.

This review includes a comprehensive review of phosphorus requirements for grassland production. Increases in phosphorus application have been provided for in certain cases where the Expert Group was satisfied that these were justified and the evidence indicated that there would be efficient use and targeted application. A change in the definition of ‘soiled water’ will bring much needed clarity for dairy farmers in relation to dairy washing. There is provision for new mitigation measures including the maintenance of an uncultivated zone in the vicinity of watercourses and increased set back distances from waters for certain activities. In light of the evidence emerging from Teagasc’s initial report on the Agricultural Catchments Programme, the current regime of closed periods for land spreading of fertilisers remains unchanged.  However, an increased set back distance from surface waters for the application of organic manures (from 5 meters to 10 meters) is being introduced during the two weeks preceding and the two weeks following the prohibited periods.

The conclusion of the review and negotiations with the Commission on this package of measures clears the way for a formal vote by the EU Nitrates Management Committee on Ireland’s request for a renewal of its derogation under the Nitrates Directive. This vote is scheduled to take place on 5 February 2014.  This derogation allows more intensive farmers to operate at a higher stocking rate subject to adherence to stricter rules.  Once a successful vote is secured, the derogation will be incorporated into the Action Programme.

A SEA statement has also been published on both Departments’ websites.

Notes for Editor:

Background - Nitrates Directive

The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) – Council Directive of 12 December 1991 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources – was adopted in 1991 and has the objective of reducing water pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources and preventing further such pollution, with the primary emphasis on the management of livestock manures and other fertilisers.

 The Nitrates Directive generally requires Member States to –

  • monitor waters and identify waters which are polluted or are liable to pollution by nitrates from agriculture
  • identify the area or areas to which an action programme should be applied to protect water from pollution from nitrates from agricultural sources
  • develop and implement action programmes to reduce and prevent such pollution in the identified area or areas
  • monitor the effectiveness of the action programmes, and
  • report to the EU Commission on progress.


The Nitrates Directive requires every Member State to review and, if necessary, revise their Nitrates Action Programme at least every four years.  The first such formal review was completed in 2010 and the second review has now successfully concluded.

The European Union (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters), Regulations 2014 – commonly known as the Nitrates or GAP Regulations - will give legal effect to Ireland’s 3rd Nitrates Action Programme made under the Nitrates Directive.  The main changes to the Programme are summarised in the following table:


Summary of changes to Nitrates Action Programme

The Programme

  • Applies to all livestock manure movements in the State
  • Provides basic set of measures to ameliorate any potential nutrient losses due to FH2020


  • Amends Table 13 (grassland phosphorus allowance) following recalculation of P requirement for grazing and silage as follows:
    • Increased P limits for grassland stocking rates greater than 85kgs
    • Reduced P limits for grassland stocking rates of less than 85kgs
  • First 300kgs concentrate used per dairy cow (or each 85kg livestock manure N equivalent) discounted when calculating P allowances
  • Reduces availability of P in organic fertilisers to 50% when applied to Index 1 and 2 soils (subject to soil testing)
  • Provides an annual P allowance on maize crops grown on Index 4 soils as provided for other selected tillage crops (20kgs per ha, subject to soil testing)
  • Allows 20kg per ha of P on Index 4 soils used for cereal crops where the soil pH is greater than 7 (subject to soil testing)
  • Reduces the assumed P concentration in SMC from 2.5kg t-1 to 1.5kg t-1
  • Allowance for lowly stocked farms (<85kgs/ha) to use P allowances in Table 15 for silage/hay sold off the farm

Soil testing requirements

The period for which a soil sample remains valid is reduced  from 6 years to 5 on non-derogation farms

Uncultivated zone near surface waters

A 2m uncultivated and unsown zone alongside all surface waters  identified on the 6” OSI maps (1:10560) of Ireland for tillage crops, excluding grassland establishment. 

Set back distances from water courses

  • Supplementary feeding points must be located at least 20m from waters and not on bare rock
  • The distance from which farmyard manure can be stored near waters is increased from 10m to 20m.
  • Removal of provision for reduced buffer strips (Art. 17(13))

Prohibited periods for the spreading of organic fertiliser

  • No change to prohibited periods
  • Setback distances from surface waters for the spreading of organic fertiliser in Art. 17(2)(f) of the Regulations is increased  from 5m to 10m for the two weeks preceding and subsequent to the prohibited period.

Soiled Water

  • Definition amended to give legal clarity
  • Storage capacity increased from 10 to 15 days for newly constructed soiled water tanks (from 1 January 2015)

Control of grass weeds in specific cereal crops

Removal of requirement to establish green cover following  non-selective herbicide use after 15 October on 25% of the land harvested for specific cereals where pre harvest control is prohibited (i.e. cereal crops grown for malting, seed or human consumption)

Nitrogen Applications limits

Increased N rate on winter barley and spring wheat by 20kg/ha across all indices consistent with similar adjustments previously made to other crops.

Corrects the rate of N permitted for top-dressing broccoli from 20kg ha-1 to 120kg ha-1.

Amendments to specific Regulations 

Article 3 amended by updating the definition or organic fertiliser to include reference to SMC

Article 13(1)(c) amended to reflect updated position and reference to the Waste Management Act replaced by reference to the European Communities (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies and Animal By Products) Regulations 2008

Regulation 23(1) (g) amended to state that records of livestock manure and other organic fertilisers moved on or off a farm will be in a format as specified by DAFM.

Article 23(4) amended to include Local Authorities as a body who may request information in relation to the movement of organic fertiliser

Article 26(4) amended to refer to a “summary prosecution”.

Article 27 requires assessment of storage capacity in light of expected animal numbers in FH2020 report



Date Released: 29 January 2014