I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for giving us the opportunity to outline the key challenges and onerous obligations placed on farmers by the nitrates regulations. I am accompanied by Mr. Pat Farrell, chairman of the environment committee, and Mr. Tim Cullinan, chairman of the pigs committee, as well as Ms Amii Cahill, secretary of the pigs committee, and Mr. Thomas Ryan of the environment committee. The IFA has submitted a detailed document to the committee; however, I propose, given the time constraints, to address only the substantial points. As in Dr. Culleton's presentation, there will be a few changes, as we have tried to make it shorter.
Farming and the agri-food sector are essential to economic recovery. The agri-food sector is the largest Irish-owned productive sector, accounting for more than 50% of exports from Irish-owned manufacturing. It employs more than 270,000 people, representing one in seven jobs. The gross value added by agriculture and the agri-food sector is €12 billion annually. The IFA estimates that the sector has the ability to deliver an additional €2 billion in exports. Furthermore, the recently published Government strategy, Food Harvest 2020, indicates potential growth in food and beverage exports of more than 40%. Furthermore, the recently published Government strategy, Food Harvest 2020, has reported potential growth in exports of food and beverages of over 40%, derived from a number of sources, including a 50% increase in output from the dairy and pig sectors and a 20% increase in value of the beef sector. Therefore, the agrifood sector is central to any delivery of future growth in job creation. However, environmental quotas such as adequate slurry storage and available land area required under the nitrates regulation are often limiting factors to achieving the growth potential identified. The current review of the nitrates regulation will play a very important role in eliminating excessive regulation and restoring competitiveness to the sector in a sustainable manner. The nitrates regulations were introduced in 2005 to protect waters against pollution from agricultural sources by ensuring compliance with baseline water quality for nitrates and phosphorus. More than €2.5 billion has since been spent as part of the largest ever farm investment programme to bring farms up to the highest environmental standards. Farmers have financed this farm building programme through a 45% increase in borrowings, which escalated from €3.7 billion in 2005 to €5.4 billion in 2009. Many farmers today are struggling to meet their repayments, a problem exacerbated by increases in the cost of borrowing imposed by financial institutions. That said, rural waters are of a high standard. Recent data produced by the EPA show that 100% of water monitoring sites have met nitrates concentrations well below the allowable level of 50 mg per litre. With regard to phosphorus, the most recent data, from 2007-08, indicate that 72% and 81.3%, respectively, of rivers and lakes monitoring sites were of good or better quality and there was a decrease in the percentage of ground water monitoring locations with average phosphorus concentrations greater than 0.035 mg per litre. In addition, farmers are now using less fertiliser than ever before. Between 2003 and 2008 the use of chemical fertiliser has reduced by 20%, 40% and 37% for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, respectively, with phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, or PNK, usage now at 1950 levels. This reduction in fertiliser use can be associated with more efficient use of fertilisers and therefore may be considered as environmentally desirable. However, the extent of this reduction in fertiliser use is now raising soil fertility concerns which will impact on crop yields and animal husbandry.
Before dealing with some detailed issues, I need to be clear. IFA will strongly oppose any further restrictions being imposed on farmers in the name of the nitrates regulations. It must be clearly understood that further improvements in water quality may take up to 20 years using time measures such as those under which the nitrates regulations were introduced. Therefore, IFA accepts the position of the EPA, which does not recommend any additional measures to prevent and reduce water pollution from agricultural sources in the current review.
Farmers are people of the land. We have a natural understanding of how best to manage fertiliser spreading and best farm management practices. The idea that farmers can spread fertiliser on a certain day in September and not on another is illogical and scientifically questionable. IFA is opposed to the concept of calendar farming, or farming by date, as an environmental option to improve water quality. Since the introduction of the nitrates regulation IFA has challenged the logic of imposing a rigid soil management regime which ignores the positive application of crop nutrients and the fertilisation requirements of crops during the closed period. Over 90% of agricultural land in Ireland is used to grow grass. The threshold temperature for grass growth is 4-6 ° centigrade. Data produced by Met Éireann show that the average mean winter seasonal temperature since 2005 was 5.9 °C. Over the same period excessive summer rainfall levels resulted in the highest summer daily rainfall value recorded since 1998 in summer 2005 and the highest summer daily rainfall value recorded since 1993, namely, the summers of 2007 and 2008. These excessive rainfall levels during the open period resulted in farmers taking correct decisions not to spread fertilisers during the open period. In recognition of this and of the inflexibility in the calendar farming regime the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Environment, Heritage and Local Government provided necessary fertiliser spreading extensions. However, the announcements of these extension periods have tended to be uncertain, forcing farmers to spread slurry based on dates rather than the best climatic, agronomic and environmental conditions. This position is totally impractical. The calendar farming requirement has increased feed costs by forcing dairy and livestock farmers to spread slurry in the autumn on fields which are often not fully grazed off. In autumn every extra day at grass is worth approximately €2.10 per cow per day or €2.3 million per day to the dairy sector alone. IFA proposed that increased flexibility should be introduced based on best available information from Met Éireann and Teagasc. Farmers should be allowed to spread slurry when there are suitable ground and grass growing conditions instead of the current defined closed period.
IFA is opposed to the ban on winter ploughing. Natural weathering of the ploughed sod during the winter months reduces the number of passes required to create a proper seed bed, the carry-over of disease, the volume of plant protection products used and carbon emissions. Farmers must be allowed to winter plough when soil conditions are appropriate. The absolute requirement for the establishment of green cover within a six week period of its application is, in many cases, not practical and contrary to good farming practice. The absolute requirement for the establishment of a green cover is not a mandatory requirement in the EU nitrates directive and must be removed given that its requirement is a voluntary measure.
The nitrates regulations specify certain distances from water bodies from which fertilisers cannot be spread and recommends a land designation as a buffer zone. In many instances, the water body is an abstraction point which farmers have donated to the local community and which is now managed by the county council. Since the introduction of the regulations, farmers find themselves in an unacceptable position whereby a retrospective land sterilisation and designation is being imposed on their farms. Farmers must be compensated where excessive buffer zones are imposed because of the nitrates regulations. Precedents exists for the payment of compensation where land designations and sterilisations arise because of EU legislation, for example, the EU habitats and birds directives. IFA proposes that the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Environment, Heritage and Local Government commence negotiations with the association to agree a package of measures which would compensate farmers for losses incurred. Also, IFA proposes that an appeals mechanism should be introduced for farmers where buffer zones are imposed and losses incurred.
A farmer may unintentionally breach the requirements of the nitrates regulation because bad weather during the summer may lead to housing of stock early and lack of growth may mean green cover cannot be achieved or P balance is affected where reseeding takes place. It is unfair, inequitable and unjustified to penalise farmers because there are no reasonable tolerances and no provision forforce majeure situations within the nitrates regulation. IFA proposes that greater flexibility and tolerances must be introduced, including provisions for force majeure situations and tolerances where intent does not exist. In addition, an appeal mechanism should be introduced.
The continuation of the nitrates derogation is an essential requirement for most commercial dairy and livestock farmers, who will deliver the growth potential identified in the Food Harvest 2020 report at a time when global demand for food will increase by more than 50% within the next 20 years. It is essential that excessive environmental requirements do not limit the expansion or capacity of the sector.
Farmers who farm with a derogation do so at an additional administrative and compliance cost over and above that which applies to other farmers. The risk of inspection is greater and the cross-compliance and administrative obligations are also greater. For the long-term future viability of some of the most commercial farming enterprises in Ireland, IFA proposes the continuation of the nitrates derogation.
Breeding improvements and advances in plant protection products and husbandry practices have seen yields increase by 1% and 2% per annum since the mid-1970s. However, the current nitrates recommendations, based on standard yields, are leading to a depletion of organic soil nitrogen and resulting in poorer yields and lower protein levels, necessitating increased imports of proteins for animal feed. The current nitrogen application rates must be increased to 240 kg of nitrogen per hectare to maintain yields and match application rates similar to those in other member states. Similarly, malting barley protein levels have fallen consistently during the past few years because of inadequate nitrogen applications rates. The current regulations discourage the use of organic fertiliser, particularly for winter grain growers.
The implementation of the nitrates regulation regarding the issue of spreading and storage of farmyard manure and spent mushroom compost by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is different and unjustifiably more stringent than other EU member states. For example, in Northern Ireland, poultry litter and farmyard manure may be stored in the fields and spent mushroom compost is treated as farmyard manure. Farmyard manure can be spread all year round. The nitrogen and phosphorus content of farmyard manure and spent mushroom compost is relatively low and, therefore, if they are spread on fields under the correct conditions, they should not pose any threat to water quality. The IFA proposes that farmers should be allowed to store farmyard manure and spent mushroom compost in fields and spread them all year around.
The current nitrogen availability values for farmyard manure and spent mushroom compost in the year of spreading are high and this discourages farmers from using these materials. When farmyard manure and spent mushroom compost are used crops may not achieve full growth and yield because the high nitrogen availability values means adequate chemical nitrogen cannot be applied. The IFA proposes that the nutrient availability rates for farmyard manure and spent mushroom compost are reduced to reflect the actual nutrient availability.
Phosphorus is extremely immobile in soils, even in soils with high phosphorus levels' and this limits crop yields for winter cereal growers, as lack of phosphorus limits root development. The IFA proposes that soil incorporations of phosphorus outside the closed period must be allowed when sowing winter cereals.
In a calendar year farm chemical phosphorus usage must not exceed the maximum rates set out in table 13 of Statutory Instrument 101 of 2009, after allowances are made for use of concentrate phosphorus and organic fertilisers. However, farmers may unintentionally exceed the farm phosphorus balance requirements in any one year due to weather conditions, early housing etc. and should be afforded the opportunity to carry over and reduce the surplus phosphorus in subsequent years. The IFA proposes that the farm phosphorus balance must be averaged over a rolling four-year period. In addition, there are a number of anomalies when calculating phosphorus in the manure produced by livestock housed in the winter months, phosphorus application rates when reseeding and phosphorus levels in concentrates, which must also be addressed in the review.
Turning to the pig and poultry sectors, manure is an important source of plant nutrients which must be recognised as such rather than continuously referred to as a waste. The transitional arrangements were introduced as it was recognised that without some provision for pig and poultry producers the industry would be decimated and a valuable source of fertiliser would be lost.
An intensive livestock working group was set up to find solutions to replace the requirements for a transitional arrangement. However, the recommendations put forward by the IFA have not been brought to fruition and, therefore, it is vital that the roll-over of the current provisions for phosphorus are put in place. Retention of the provisions is necessary to support customer farmer demand for slurry-manure until such time as alternatives are developed. The rationale to support this amendment is fourfold. First, on a scientific basis, under the current regulations, the maximum amount of organic nitrogen that may be applied to land is 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. This effectively limits the amount of phosphorus that can be acquired. Extra phosphorus acquired from the use of organic manures will reduce the need to import chemical fertiliser from outside the State as well as reduce the distance between manure suppliers and their customers, thus reducing fuel and transport costs. Second, there has been an improvement in water quality during the course of the existing transitional arrangements. The water framework directive allows for provisions to be made when environmental regulations are introduced and it can be demonstrated that their cost outweighs their environmental benefit. This is surely a case in point.
The intensive livestock working group, referred to earlier, has not published its final report. This group should be reconvened immediately with a view to finalising proposals to ensure the industry can progress into the future without a transitional arrangement. Another serious problem with the current regulation concerns the residual nitrogen loading of manures.
The nitrates regulations have had a profound financial and farm management impact on farmers. The regulations have put an extreme financial burden on farmers who have spent in excess of €2.5 billion to comply with the nitrates regulations.
There are flaws in the regulation. It removes the ability of the farmer to manage the farm based on best environmental and farming conditions. Instead a farmer must adhere to illogical calendar farming requirements and have lands sterilised and have the threat of a duplication of inspections being imposed.
The transitional provisions for pig and poultry farmers must be extended. This is an absolute necessity to ensure viability of the sector into the future. Producers, Teagasc and the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government simply need time to find workable solutions for the future. This can be achieved over the course of the second action plan.
I seek the support of the Chairman and members during this review of the nitrates legislation to make it more workable and to end the excessive costs, duplication and bureaucratic burden associated with this regulation.