Nitrates Action Plan: Discussion

The main item on the agenda is presentations on the review of the nitrates action plan by representatives of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Teagasc, the IFA and the ICMSA, to be taken in that sequence. The proposed format is that each group will first make a short presentation which will be followed by a question and answer session with members. Members of the four groups may talk to each other separately, but this is an opportunity for Members of the Oireachtas to put questions and discuss the four presentations.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they do not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are also reminded that civil servants, while giving evidence to a committee, may not question or express an opinion on the merits of a Government policy or policy objective or produce or send to a committee a document in which a civil servant or a member of the Defence Forces or the Garda Síochána questions or expresses an opinion on the merits of a Government policy.

Mr. Pat Duggan

I thank the joint committee for giving us this opportunity to discuss the review of the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations. The Council directive on the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources was adopted in December 1991. Its primary emphasis is on the management of livestock manures and other fertilisers. It generally requires member states to monitor and identify waters that are polluted or liable to pollution from agricultural sources, identify the area or areas to which an action programme should be applied to protect waters from pollution and develop and implement action programmes to reduce such pollution. These programmes are to be implemented and updated in a four-year cycle. Member states are also required to monitor the effectiveness of action programmes and report to the European Commission on progress.

In the implementation of the nitrates directive in Ireland a whole territory approach was adopted, rather than the designation of nitrate vulnerable zones. The whole territory approach was deemed the most appropriate, as it addressed a wide range of impacts of agricultural activities such as eutrophication of fresh waters and estuaries due to excessive inputs of nitrates or phosphorus. It also addressed health related risks due to elevated nitrates levels in drinking water sources and the biological contamination of drinking water supplies. The adoption of the whole territory approach was consistent with the requirements of the water framework directive.

Following extensive consultation with interested parties, including the main farming organisations, Ireland's first five-year action programme was established in 2005 and given statutory effect in the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations 2005, generally known as the nitrates regulations. Revised regulations were made in 2006, 2007 and 2009. At the time the putting in place of the nitrates regulations was critical in the context of Ireland's response to a European Court of Justice judgment and followed prolonged negotiations with the European Commission. Ireland was the last of the then 15 member states to make and implement such regulations under the nitrates directive.

Ireland's nitrates action programme addresses all of the measures referred to in the annex to the directive. As required under the directive, the programme lays down detailed rules for farmyard management and manure storage, sets closed fertilisation periods, sets back distances around water courses, outlines procedures for the land application of manures and fertilisers to minimise pollution risks and provides for nutrient management aimed at achieving balanced fertilisation through a system of detailed application standards for phosphorus and nitrogen related to crop nutrient needs. Ireland's second nitrates action programme commences this year and will run until the end of 2013.

We must consider this matter in the context of Ireland's derogation under the directive. In tandem with the review of Ireland's action programme, the derogation also falls due for renewal. In October 2007 the Commission granted us a derogation. This allows farmers, subject to certain conditions, in the spreading of manure to operate at levels — effectively stocking levels — above the standard limit of 170 kg of nitrogen per hectare but not exceeding 250 kg. The derogation is being applied by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The 2009 regulations gave legal effect to this arrangement and the requirements imposed by the derogation. The Commission will only agree to a renewal of the derogation when a satisfactory nitrates action programme has been agreed between Ireland and the Commission.

Regarding the 2010 nitrates regulations, the public consultation process on Ireland's new action programme was initiated on 11 June with the joint publication of a consultation paper by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and closed on Friday, 23 July. The main revision of significance proposed in the consultation paper is the amendment of Article 21 to revise certain dates where the establishment of a green cover is required following either the ploughing of arable land or the application of a non-selective herbicide to arable land or grassland. This is the so-called winter ploughing issue which has caused difficulties for farmers. The main concerns expressed by them about the effective ban on ploughing before 15 January included yield reduction and the extra costs associated with achieving good seedbeds. Concerns were also expressed about pest and disease carryover, machinery capacity and malting barley quality. The effect of the proposed amendment to Article 21 is to allow ploughing or the use of non-selective herbicides to commence from 1 December without the requirement to have green cover in place within six weeks. The amendment follows from a temporary relaxation of the provision last October agreed with the Commission.

Some 44 written submissions on the consultation paper have been received. They include submissions from Members of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament, local authorities, individual farmers, farmer representative bodies, environmental NGOs, academics, co-operative societies, agricultural scientists, trade and professional bodies and Teagasc. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in consultation with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has approved the setting up of an expert group to assist the Departments in reviewing the submissions received during the public consultation process. The Departments have mandated an expert advisory group to review the submissions received in response to the consultation paper and, having regard to these, as well as to relevant national and EU policy requirements for environmental protection and the development of agriculture, to recommend a common position on the measures that should be included in Ireland's second nitrates action programme. The group comprises senior scientific experts from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the EPA and Teagasc. It will be chaired jointly by Mr. John Malone and Mr. Niall Callan, former Secretaries General of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It met for the first time on Friday, 23 July, and it is intended that it will complete its work by the end of August.

We will be happy to elaborate on any aspect of this statement or any other matter pertaining to the review of the nitrates regulations. The expert advisory group has just commenced its work and we wish to avoid making any comment at this early stage that would compromise its work.

I thank Mr. Duggan for his presentation on behalf of the Department. He is joined by Mr. Kevin Forde from the water quality section. We will now hear Teagasc's presentation. We are joined by Dr. Noel Culleton, head of crops, environment and land use programmes; Mr. Mark Gibson, environment specialist; Mr. Stan Lalor, research agronomist; and Mr. Ger Shortle, programme manager. I invite Dr. Culleton to make the presentation.

Dr. Noel Culleton

We thank the joint committee for giving us the opportunity to make this presentation. The primary objective of the Teagasc submission is to facilitate the development of a sustainable agricultural industry that is profitable and capable of rapid expansion, while protecting and improving water quality. Water quality and its protection are at the heart of our submission. Our aspirations are broadly in line with the Food Harvest 2020 report published last week.

Farmers have responded extremely positively to action programmes since the introduction of the first one. National usage levels of nitrogen and phosphorus decreased by 20% and 40%, respectively, between 2003 and 2008 and this trend continued in 2009. Traditionally, slurry was spread in the autumn, which increased the loss of nutrients to water. Farmers have changed this practice completely, with most slurry now being spread in the spring and summer when grass crops can best use the nutrients. This significantly reduces the risk of nutrient loss from land to water.

With the help of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food capital grant schemes, farmers invested heavily in farmyard infrastructure, with a total spend of approximately €2.5 billion. Teagasc believes this investment substantially reduces the risk of point source pollution or pollution from farmyards.

The agricultural catchments programme is a major part of the nitrates action programme. It is funded by the Department and managed by Teagasc in partnership with farmers who enthusiastically embraced the idea. It provides invaluable information on nutrient flows and catchments and will be of enormous benefit to the country in facilitating increased agricultural production, while protecting or improving water quality. We argue that a continuation of funding of the agricultural catchments programme in the new action programme is essential.

It is too early to detect the full impact of the nitrogen——

We have received a summary of the Teagasc submission but Dr. Culleton's script is not exactly the same.

Dr. Noel Culleton

It is not.

It is the same content. Members are trying to follow the text. It is the same content, but Dr. Culleton is verbalising.

Dr. Noel Culleton

Yes.

Do members understand it is in a different format?

Dr. Noel Culleton

It is too early to detect the full impact of the nitrogen action programme measures on water quality. In February an EPA study stated the deterioration of water quality had stopped and that signs of improvement were being detected. It is widely recognised there will be a substantial time lag before improvements in nutrient management become apparent in the receiving water bodies. In this context, it is important that we have realistic expectations of the rate of improvement in the quality of water.

In its submission Teagasc proposes 21 amendments and has strictly adhered to three principles — all of the proposed amendments are based on solid scientific research, have been subjected to an environmental impact assessment and only those with no negative impact on the environment have been included; and have been cross-evaluated against each other to ensure consistency. The 21 amendments we propose are divided into six groups which have been included in the summary circulated to members. The group on nutrient requirements of crops and grassland comprises seven amendments, one of which is on nitrogen for winter wheat. There is widespread evidence that the nitrogen allowances included in the current regulations are too low for modern wheat varieties to achieve their yield potential. There are also problems with the soil index system for cereals. Teagasc proposes an extra 20 kg of nitrogen per hectare. It also proposes changes to the nitrogen index system to more accurately reflect the impact of previous crop and fertiliser regimes. Other examples of amendments in this section are the ones on the nitrogen availability of spent mushrooms and phosphorus requirements in pasture establishment.

The second group relates to the methods of calculation of phosphorus allowances. Teagasc has identified that the implementation of the P regulations has posed significant practical challenges for farmers. It may also lead to P deficits which could result in animal health and welfare issues and reduced production. Teagasc proposes a suite of measures on the planning of P fertiliser and year-end P balances, levels of phosphorus in concentrated feeds and the distribution of this phosphorus on the farm. Another proposal relates to the simplification of the calculations of maximum fertiliser allowances.

There is some evidence that phosphorus deficiency on farms is a growing problem, which is very serious. We are actively investigating this issue and if real difficulties are discovered in the course of this research, we hope they can be addressed during the lifetime of the new action plan.

The current definition of soiled water poses difficulties for farmers. The regulations state that when excreta and soiled water are mixed in a collecting yard tank, this product is deemed to be slurry and can only be spread outside the closed slurry spreading period. The Teagasc solution is the proposed amendment to use the chemical definition of soiled water as defined in the regulations.

The implementation of closed periods for spreading manures and fertilisers is an extremely contentious and difficult issue for farmers. Teagasc proposes that a decision support system be adopted in the long term, that is, a system under which farmers would make decisions based on soil type, climatic data, distance from rivers, etc. However, the technology in this regard is still under development. We, therefore, propose an interim solution, that flexible implementation of the closed periods, as applied by the Minister in 2008 and 2009, be regularised and decided based on an objective assessment of current environmental risks.

Another difficult issue arises from the transitional arrangements in respect of pig and poultry manure. Teagasc has forecast that the ending of the transitional arrangements will require a 50% increase in the land area required for spreading. This will present extreme difficulties for the sector; it will be particularly difficult for the pig sector in counties Cavan and Monaghan. There is no simple scientific solution to the problem. Teagasc proposes a package of measures to encourage the use of these manures on grassland and tillage farms. They include changes to nutrient availability, rationalisation of the nutrient calculations, and support for slurry storage facilities and specialised spreading equipment.

The final issue is administrative considerations. Teagasc continues to assist about 42,000 clients in complying with the nitrates regulations. We are, therefore, acutely aware that there are several procedural difficulties at farm level. Teagasc has proposed a package of amendments that aim to simplify the process for farmers; for example, basing the slurry storage requirements on the zone in which the primary farmyard is located, rather than the zone with the highest requirements, and rationalising the soil sampling requirements.

We are on the threshold of major expansion of the agriculture sector. The amendments we are bringing forward will facilitate this expansion by farmers. They have the potential to reduce the administrative difficulties experienced by farmers and advisers, while at the same time protecting and improving water quality as far as possible.

I thank Dr. Culleton; we are grateful for his submission. We will now hear a presentation by the Irish Farmers Association. We are joined by Mr. John Bryan, president; Mr. Pat Farrell, chairman of the environment committee; and Mr. Tim Cullinan, chairman of the pigs committee.

Mr. John Bryan

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.

I thank Mr. Bryan. We are joined by Mr. Jackie Cahill, president of the ICMSA, Mr. John Comer, deputy president, and by Mr. Ciaran Dolan, general secretary.

Mr. Jackie Cahill

I thank the Chairman and members for allowing us to present our views. Mr. John Bryan has gone through a very detailed submission. We have provided our submission for the Chairman and members and I will take a few of the main points from it and try to hammer home their importance to us.

There must be huge recognition of the amount of money farmers have spent in the past four years in terms of nitrates regulation and compliance. The adaptation of farming practices which has taken place was referred to by other speakers. Farming practices have changed very significantly over the past four years. The amount of money spent improving farm infrastructure has been considerable and will cause a continuous burden going forward.

The struggle to get the derogation in 2007, in particular for the dairy sector, and its importance cannot be overestimated. The report, Food Harvest 2020, was issued last week and the derogation will be even more important going forward. Compliance with that derogation must be simplified. We must have that derogation in place for expansion to take place in the dairy sector. We have shown that farmers can work within the derogation and work without any harmful effects on the environment. It is absolutely essential that derogation is in place going forward.

As I said, we have adapted and changed our farming practices over the past couple of years. No one is more conscious of the benefits of water quality to the environment than farmers. That point is often forgotten. We are the custodians of the environment in the countryside and good environmental practices are vital for us.

In terms of the review, parts of the regulations have imposed restrictions on farmers which have gone beyond what was necessary. At this stage in the review, we can adapt the regulations going forward to make commercial farming more practical and to try to reduce the cost burden on farmers.

The first proposal I would like to make concerns farming by calendar. It really annoys farmers when conditions are suitable but the calendar restrictions prevents them from good, normal farming practices.

In our submission, we propose a wording that we suggest would be put into the review of the regulations, that is, that Schedule 4 should be amended to include the following:

Notwithstanding the dates set out in this Schedule, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may set an earlier termination date for any one or more of the periods specified in paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 of this Schedule, based on objective criteria including Met Éireann forecasts predicting at least five consecutive days during which the soil temperatures remain above four degrees centigrade and soil moisture content remain above field capacity.

If that wording is included, it will allow the farming by calendar to become more farmer friendly and farmers will see that the regulations are being adapted to good farming practices and that, on the nonsense of when conditions are suitable for the spreading of fertiliser is not allowed under the present regulation, this wording would allow such spreading to be done without any necessity for having to go to Brussels to getforce majeure extensions of the periods. This would be a significant movement to show farmers that the regulation is being adapted to incorporate good normal farming practices. This, the spancelling of farmers as regards the completely defined closed periods, is one aspect that really has annoyed farmers in the past four years.

The second point I want to make is about the pig and poultry slurry and the absolute necessity of having a roll-over of the present transitional arrangements. It is vital, in ICMSA's view, for the continuation of the transitional measures provided for in Regulation 34 beyond the period ending 31 December 2010 with respect to the phosphorus content of manure produced by poultry and pigs. There must be a positive political decision for this to happen. This committee has a significant role in getting our message across to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, that this roll-over is essential and without it these two important industries will come under severe pressure. We hope that in the future the scientific evidence will come to improve the way the directive can be adapted for these two industries but the roll-over of the transitional arrangement is essential at present.

The third point I want to make is about the phosphorus calculation. This really hammers home the severe impact that the nitrates regulation can have on farms. In the breeding season this spring on dairy farms, deficiency in phosphorus became a very significant problem on a large number of dairy farms. Without doubt, it is due to the nitrates regulations and the restrictions that have been imposed on farmers. It shows that these regulations must be adapted in the future to ensure that good normal farmer practices can continue.

The calculation of the phosphorus must be done on a previous year basis. Of all areas in this regulation, the phosphorus calculation is one where there is much more work to be done to show the usage of that phosphorus in the soil. As I stated, it is a practical example that has been shown in the fertility of dairy animals this spring, that they have not been able to source phosphorus as they had been in the past from grazed grass. That really brings home the impracticality of some of these regulations.

Those are the three major points that ICMSA wants to hammer home to the committee. We have made a detailed submission and expanded on those points in it. We stress that this is a review. In the past four years farmers have played a significant part in improving water quality. We hope that in this review there is recognition of that and that there can be a more sensible approach to the regulations in the future. With water quality being paramount to farmers as well as everyone else, we must be allowed to farm commercially, in a common-sense way, while also protecting the environment.

I thank Mr. Cahill for his presentation. We will now take brief comments and questions from members. I ask the representatives from each of the four groups present to take note of any questions relevant to their areas of expertise and they can then reply to these. I do not want each of our guests to address each individual question. Some questions will be more relevant to certain groups. We will bank the questions from members before taking replies from our guests.

I thank the delegations that have attended to discuss this important issue. What we are trying to do is ensure we have good water quality while also maintaining a competitive agriculture sector. Both of those objectives can be achieved and that is why our guests are present. However, as those involved in agriculture, our guests have expressed concerns regarding the proposed changes the Department may be contemplating introducing.

As our guests stated, some €5.5 billion has been spent on enhancing the infrastructure relating to storage capacity. This was done at a time when farmers were expecting the full payment of grants in the year in which they carried out the relevant work. The scheme was extended for three years which had major implications for farmers in the context of how the banks viewed their credit worthiness. The Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government would want to take account of the fact that they moved the goalposts in respect of that which was implemented four or five years ago. Their actions have given rise to a squeeze on credit and to tight financial circumstances on each family farm. In the context of the introduction of any regulations and notwithstanding the fact that the objective of good water quality can be maintained, people's changed financial circumstances must be taken into account.

Will Mr. Duggan indicate whether, since the introduction of the regulations four years ago, there has been an improvement in water quality? I do not believe Mr. Duggan referred to the changes which may have taken place in this regard, nor did he provide his assessment of the impact to date of the regulations that were put in place in 2005.

It may be a perception rather than a reality but the authorities in this jurisdiction appear to be hell-bent on the strict implementation of EU directives and do not take account of the factors to which I refer. Who is responsible for advising the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, from a scientific perspective, on the implementation of the regulations? Are studies carried out? Do the relevant officials oversee the implementation of the regulations without being obliged to have recourse to anyone else?

A number of our guests referred to the difference between this jurisdiction and our neighbours in Northern Ireland and Great Britain in respect of the application of regulations relating to nitrates and winter ploughing. Why are the regulations in this country different from those which apply in the jurisdictions to which I refer? Are the climatic conditions which obtain in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland not generally similar?

What are Dr. Culleton's qualifications? On what basis did he make the assertions contained in his presentation? Dr. Culleton raised a number of reasonable points and Teagasc, the organisation he represents, has made 21 recommendations. I am sure that, as a State agency, Teagasc is operating in the national interest. What is the level of consultation between it and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with regard to meeting what are the same objectives? Is Dr. Culleton qualified to talk about the matters to which he referred? Those from certain other State agencies or Departments may not believe him to be suitably qualified.

Dr. Culleton stated that an objective assessment should be carried out in respect of closed periods. Who should be responsible for carrying out such an assessment and what criteria should apply? Should local authorities, Teagasc, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the EPA have responsibility in this regard? Mr. Bryan obviously had something on his mind when he mentioned who will define "objective assessment".

These are serious regulations which, if fully implemented on the basis proposed, will have a serious impact on the competitiveness of farmers and the competitiveness of the agriculture industry. Account must be taken of the different financial circumstances in which farmers find themselves through no fault of their own following the implementation of a regime of grant assistance for slurry. The other issue related to slurry spreading, particularly where pigs are intensively reared, is if one has to travel greater distances, it will cost more and farmers are not lining up to transport more pig slurry. The impact of the regulations on the competitiveness of the pig sector in parts of the country should not be underestimated. Can flexibility and balance be achieved to ensure both good water quality and a sustainable, competitive agriculture sector?

I will elaborate on an issue raised by Mr. Bryan and Deputy Hogan regarding the difference in approach across member states. Mr. Bryan, for example, highlighted the different approach in the Six Counties and argued that the regime being applied in the Republic is unjustifiably more stringent than in most other member states. That has been my experience. Every few years I have the opportunity to participate in a charity cycle between northern Brittany and the Pyrenees and I am often accompanied by farmers and people employed in the construction industry. All of them are amazed at the lax approach taken by people in the farming, construction and restaurant sectors in France to hygiene regulations and they often wonder whether we are living in the same European Union as the people in France. I have always felt we have been overly zealous and overly enthusiastic in the adoption and implementation of EU regulations. Our farmers must be enabled to compete on as level a playing pitch as we can provide for them with other EU farmers. In drawing up the regulations, how vigilant was the Department in monitoring the approach of other member states to implementing the nitrates directive and in benchmarking our approach to that of other member states to ensure we were not being overly restrictive and were not imposing unnecessary costs on a farming sector that must be able to complete on a level playing pitch with other EU farmers?

I congratulate the representatives of both farming organisations on their presentations. They have outlined the issues from a farming perspective very well as usual. Everyone must join in the effort in this regard because a few players are involved. I am delighted the dairy, pig and poultry sectors are working together. This is very important and the fact they are doing so is good because fertiliser is a valuable commodity at a time when margins are tight for farmers. From that point of view, it is good this is happening and I want to see more of it.

The agriculture sector is important at a time when jobs are at a premium. Both organisations outlined that farming could be very beneficial in getting us out of where we are at the moment and additional jobs could be created in the sector. Will both Mr. Cahill and Mr. Bryan elaborate on how these jobs and the additional money they will generate for the sector in agriculture can be achieved? Will that happen in the long or short term?

I have had a problem with calendar farming from day one. When I was growing up there were some smart men in the farming community who were always one step ahead of the posse in the farming scene. They used always comment on people who wrote on farming issues in books and journals and ask where the book farming would get us. I agree we need scientific experts and need people to be involved at different levels. For example, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has a role to play. However, the practical side of farming is very important, as are the people at the coalface — the farmers themselves. They are the experts, about which I have no doubt. They are the people who must do the work on the ground. One can go to college forever but someone must put the theory into practice. Farming practices have changed down through the years and we have come a long way. However, we can take the science too far. We must get down to basics.

When someone in Brussels or wherever can tell farmers here on what day to spread their slurry, that is a step too far. Farmers operate on a tight margin. They have a valuable commodity — slurry. One should not think farmers would use that slurry in a way that is not profitable. They will make the best possible use of it to get a good return. Therefore, we need to take a serious look at the issue of calendar farming. Ireland is only a small country but weather conditions can vary greatly on any given day in each of the four provinces. This makes it crazy to think the same regulation can apply across the country, not to mind apply in different countries in Europe. There is much work to be done in that regard.

We in Ireland, farmers in particular, have spent significant money on achieving the water quality we have currently and it is time this was recognised. Some will be paying for a long time to come for the effort they have put into getting us to where we are today. It is time now the carrot was used rather than the stick and that farmers were recognised for the efforts they have made in this area.

Whenever I travel in Europe, something that sticks out like a sore thumb for me is the fact that one sees piles of manure stocked up along the roadside waiting for the opportune time to spread it. These countries are in the same European Union as Ireland but we cannot do this. We must have special concrete pads made to store our manure. I cannot understand why there is such a huge difference in our regulations. Can Mr. Duggan enlighten the committee on the reason for the difference or explain how what applies in other European countries does not apply here?

I will leave it at that for now, although I could go on about how far we have come and what has yet to be done. Farmers are playing their part and that must be recognised. By working together we can achieve a lot. That is the route we must take.

I thank the farming organisations and the Department for their informative and interesting presentations. I fully support the farming organisations in their drive to see practical changes in the nitrates directive. We all know that farmers have suffered increased costs and restrictions due to the implementation of the nitrates directive and their legitimate concerns have been ignored from the outset. One of the main areas urgently requiring amendment is the issue of calendar farming where what is needed is increased flexibility in this area. Favourable weather conditions, not preordained calendar limitations, should be the criteria for spreading slurry. Anyone associated with farming knows that. In the past 12 months there have been instances when farmers could not spread slurry in periods of very suitable weather and it was impossible to even look out onto the land.

Mr. John Bryan has highlighted the important issue of employment in the agrisector and its potential for the delivery of further jobs in the rural economy. God knows, we need them now when 452,000 people are out of work. Perhaps Mr. Bryan could develop this further, especially with regard to the role of the reviewed nitrates directive in limiting such expansion of much-needed jobs both in the agrisector and in the economy as a whole. Does Mr. Bryan believe the passing of the buck with regard to the nitrates directive between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 2005 has resulted in the excessively punitive measures against farmers which, with proper accountability by the Ministers, could have been avoided? Deputy Christy O'Sullivan referred to the level of investment to date by farmers of in the region of €2.5 billion in water quality improvements. Mr. Bryan has stated that the IFA will strongly oppose further restrictions on farmers in the name of the nitrates regulations. In his view, has the red tape and bureaucracy of these regulations far outweighed their benefits?

I want to see all the controversy that has surrounded the passing of the buck between the two Departments ended to the benefit of farmers. We are listening every day to sensible people throughout the country, many of whom are in the Visitors Gallery and represent farming interests in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath.

Mr. Pat Duggan referred to the expert group and this group should engage in talks with all interest groups, especially farmers, the people who are at the coalface. I note the group is comprised of senior scientific experts from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but there is a wealth of knowledge within the farming organisations and they should be listened to. There is an onus on the Government to ensure those people are listened to. We do not want to see an industry destroyed and the numbers of people working on the land being eroded, as has been happening over recent years. We cannot afford at any time to allow an industry which has employed significant numbers of people to be destroyed by EU directives. As has been said by Senator Cannon and Mr. John Bryan on Northern Ireland, I do not see how there can be such disparity within 50 miles of one county and another. We must grow up in that regard. Common sense must prevail. I welcome in particular the comments made about jobs.

I thank all the contributors for their presentations. As someone who lives in a town but was born and reared in the country, I cannot see the reason for some of the proposals put forward. The concept of farming by calendar is a bridge too far. That point has been made by many speakers.

How could anyone say farmers would indulge in any practice that would adversely affect water quality? Farmers, their families, neighbours and livestock drink the water so they are hardly going to contaminate the water they drink themselves. They are too often portrayed as the villain of the piece in that regard.

There are serious pressures on the farming community. There has been a flight from the land. Compared with when I was young there are not as many involved in farming but the sector still accounts for 14% of the workforce, which is significant. We have enough people unemployed. Whatever we in the Oireachtas do to help the Department and agencies such as Teagasc, we should do nothing to hinder them. Some of the proposals that have been put forward do not stand up to reason nor are they logical.

What is the view of Teagasc and the Department on the first three proposals of the ICMSA on page 6 of the submission? On page 4 of Teagasc's proposals in the independent review document it is stated that it had been demonstrated that in specific farm scenarios those anomalies are leading to large structural phosphorus deficits. I would like to get a broader view of what that means in terms of understanding the language. On pages 24 and 25 of the same document the denitrification process is referred to and it is stated that during the delay period a large proportion of nitrate is expected to be ameliorated and denitrified to environmentally benign N2 gas. Would it be possible to explain the preceding paragraphs in layman's terms?

The reason I ask those questions is because they have a bearing in terms of calculations. On page 3 of the Teagasc submission the introduction of new scientific research and flexibility in the closed period is referred to. I would like an explanation of that paragraph and the transitional arrangements for pig and poultry manure. Specific reference is made to proposed amendments in the submission on nitrogen availability in organic manures. Could one of the Teagasc representatives expand slightly on this? It seems what is being suggested is that amendments on the simplification of calculations for maximum nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser allowance be adopted to encourage the use of pig and poultry manure by livestock farmers. What is the basis of that advice? I would like to know that in layman's terms because perhaps I do not fully understand the scientific language of it.

The draft GAP regulations include a mechanism through which they can be regulated to reflect the outcomes from new research on peer requirements of crops and animals as soon as these are published before the next review. Can the delegates expand on this also? Page 97 of the Teagasc document refers to streamlining the derogation under the GAP regulations. This has a major bearing on outcomes in the political process. Teagasc believes that having two separate dates associated with the process can cause unnecessary confusion for derogation applicants and participants. Can the process be streamlined mid-stream? What would the benefit of that be in real terms?

We are all in complete agreement that the Food Harvest 2020 proposals will have to be predicated on the notion that we can continue to maximise efficiencies and that there is a political process set up so that Ireland's comparative advantage on food production will not be compromised. There is a programme set out for each of the sectors such as dairy, poultry, pig and so on, and the Labour Party would welcome that new programme. If the science is suggesting that we can deal with phosphorus and nitrogen and manage it in such a way, and if Teagasc is coming up with research that ameliorates it so that we do not compromise on our production and our comparative economic advantage, then every political party will have to support a process that ensures we can achieve the best for Irish agriculture. I happen to think that the science is there to ensure that, but I also think that a message should be sent to the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government that if there are pollutants within the agricultural sector and if he is hell bent on going down the line of constricting agricultural practices, then he must take cognisance of the fact that there are other major pollutants that are also under his remit, such as local authorities. If the Minister spent more time going after local authorities and invested properly in infrastructure, that would significantly improve water quality in this country also.

As much of what I wanted to say has been covered, I will not go over old ground. I thank all the delegates for appearing before the committee today. I also thank the Chairman for giving members the opportunity to have our say on something that will have a major impact on the future of Irish farming and agriculture.

I concur with what Deputy Hogan and Senator Cannon said about the implementation of regulations and consistency across the EU member states. There is major concern about this area and there is no clear understanding why there is such a deviation in standards across member states. Department officials need to explain clearly why this is so.

Since the introduction of the regulations in 2005, it is very important to emphasise and acknowledge the role of the farming community in improving water quality. Teagasc officials told the committee that between 2003 and 2008, there was an increase of 20% in water quality standards, and I am sure it has improved even more in the last year or two.

It is important to acknowledge the massive investment made by farming communities whose members have left themselves and their families exposed as a result of their investment in storage and farmyard facilities in order to comply with the nitrates directives. I have spoken to many constituents who are under serious pressure in this regard and because the goalposts were moved in the last year or so with regard to the grants available and the waiting time for payment. This is leaving many young farmers seriously exposed. I ask the officials to take on board the hardship being experienced by young farmers in implementing the regulations, with which they are more than happy to comply but which are leaving them seriously exposed on a financial level. This is a complaint that arises almost everywhere. We are talking about an indigenous industry with massive potential that should be supported in every way possible. Farmers have adapted in many ways, as outlined by the farming organisations.

The calendar farming issue must be addressed because there does not seem to be any logic to the system that is operating. We have seen the effects of climate change in the dramatic shift in weather patterns in recent years, with more rain in the summer and drier conditions in spring and later in the year. Account must be taken of this in the review in order to accommodate a greater degree of flexibility. Solutions in this regard have been offered by the ICMSA and the IFA and I hope they will be taken into account.

In regard to the competitiveness of the agriculture sector, it is important that we maintain the derogation as far as possible because it affords some flexibility in intensive farming areas. The appeals mechanism must also be maintained. There are serious concerns about buffer zones. Taken together with new planning regulations, new habitats directives and the nitrates directives, this will exclude vast areas of farmland that were historically available to farming families. The impact these zones will have on the sustainability and viability of farms has not been properly analysed by the Department. It is a debate the committee may have to revisit. The IFA have spoken about water supplies that were given voluntarily to communities by farmers in the past but which are now being hit retrospectively through these buffer zones. There must be flexibility in this regard.

Has the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government made an effort to think outside the box in finding alternative ways to deal with slurry and so on? For example, are there any incentives for renewable energy initiatives to deal with the potential of methane gas? Unless the incentives are in place that will allow farmers to diversify, there is little point in talking about renewable energy.

On the issue of bio-fertilisers, I understand there is much confusion between local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency, with their use being sanctioned in some areas but not in others. Have clear guidelines been issued to local authorities and the EPA in this regard?

Calls have been made today for the provision of an appeals mechanism in the review. Any fair system requires such a mechanism in order to facilitate a proper and objective review of any decision made.

The departmental officials have said they may not be able to comment on certain matters owing to the considerations of the expert committee, but will they indicate whether they have a view on the very reasonable recommendations made by Teagasc?

I welcome the delegations. The two farming organisations have adopted a logical approach, as has Teagasc. Farmers have spent enormous amounts in seeking to improve water quality and so on, which has put them under extreme financial pressure. Only the week before last the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, announced a strategy stating agriculture could play a major role in expanding output, which would increase its job creation potential. I must state to Mr. Duggan and his colleagues that unless the regulations are minimised and the derogation is extended, there is little hope of such expansion taking place. One must be realistic and practical and understand this point.

One subject about which I was perplexed was the make-up of the new review committee. It does not include a single producer and contains no one from either the IFA or the ICMSA, nor even a ministerial nominee. I represent a constituency in which the main activities are intensive pig and poultry production and dairying. Some of those involved are present in the Visitors Gallery. They are experts in their own fields and have built enterprises and provided employment. I ask the joint committee to encourage the Minister, even at this late stage, to ensure some experts who know how to run a business are included when decisions are being taken.

Does Mr. Duggan agree that the approach taken by Teagasc constitutes a sensible way forward? I note that in a statement made only yesterday by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, he referred to the extreme weather conditions of the past three years. All members are aware that the position on calendar farming had to be changed as a result of weather conditions. Does it not make sense that farmers, in conjunction with Teagasc, should have some leeway as to when they can avail of the best weather conditions to spread slurry? Flexibility in closed periods is mentioned in the Teagasc presentation and I ask Mr. Duggan and the Department to consider this issue seriously. Last year and the year before farmers were telephoning me on a daily basis to ascertain whether a change could be effected. An additional few weeks were allowed suddenly, whereas across the Border in Northern Ireland the period was extended to the end of the year. Either we are living in the European Union or we are not; there is a need for common sense in this regard.

Farmers have reacted extremely positively in the control of water quality. However, on some related matters the position is completely ridiculous. Other members have mentioned seeing manure pits in the fields while travelling through other parts of Europe. However, as the regulations stand, if we have soiled water, we cannot spread it outside the times given. The additional costs this imposes on farmers in places such as my own are absolutely phenomenal and increasing numbers will go out of business as a result. As I stated, some pig farmers are present in the Visitors Gallery. They wish to know whether the derogation will be extended. Will they be assured that they will not be obliged to increase the acreage they need by 100% in counties Louth and Meath or elsewhere? Someone living in the western part of County Cavan must draw slurry 70 or 80 miles. As I am not a member of the joint committee, I appreciate the Chairman has displayed great lenience towards me.

When we consider the production of power using alternative energy sources in Germany, Holland and elsewhere, we must ask why we cannot introduce such a structure in Ireland. This might be a matter for a Department other than the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but we must consider how other countries can use slurry, poultry litter and so on to produce green energy and minimise the pressure exerted on water sources.

I thank the Chairman, although I would like to ask many more questions. If we are serious about promoting an expansion of agri-industry in the poultry, pig and dairy sectors, we must ensure the new regime to be introduced is properly structured and that the scientific information available to us is used, instead of relying on calendar dates and measures, as has been proved over a three-year period, that do not work.

As I am not a member of the joint committee, I welcome the opportunity to speak at this meeting, for which I thank the Chairman.

I acknowledge the submissions made. It is evident that not only are the farming groups working together, they are also largely in agreement concerning what we want in the next four years in terms of the revision of the nitrates regulations. We must acknowledge the significant improvement in water quality since the introduction of the regulations. It would be wise of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to investigate sewerage systems in provincial towns and cities when examining areas in which water quality is questionable. I am convinced that officials in the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government can no longer view the farming sector as the No. 1 suspect. With Government investment and even greater investment by the farming community, significant efforts have been made to comply. In terms of compliance with European directives, no other sector has needed to change to the same extent as farming which should be commended in this regard.

Great effort went into the compilation of the regulations — Teagasc and farming organisations were heavily involved — to devise a workable and affordable package. Let us be honest, the regulations have worked. It is from here that we must start to determine what is workable and affordable in a time of serious economic crisis. I welcome the announcement by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, of a 10% increase in pig production during the coming years. To facilitate this increase, we must be realistic in our approach in the next four years. It has been clearly presented to the committee that the derogation should be extended and that traditional measures should roll over into the next four years. In the same way, Teagasc's amendments which have been accepted by the farming groups in attendance must be taken on board.

The working group should take a few matters into account. For example, the manure of farmed animals is classified as an animal by-product under European and Irish legislation, in particular EC Regulation No. 1774/2002, but is excluded from the scope of the directive on waste. This matter should be taken into account in the revisiting of the nitrates regulations, directly or indirectly, at the end of August. The placing of animal manures on the market to sell or supply for use for the benefit of neighbouring farmers in fertilising farmland is authorised under EC Regulation No. 1774/2002. The transfer of manure between holdings is then lawful. However, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is the competent authority. It is essential that this is recognised by the EPA in order to avoid double regulation.

Much has been said about calendar farming. When the regulations were being drawn up, it was said a system of calendar farming would not work. We spent many days in the House waiting for word from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that farmers could spread the following week. I used to ask the Chairman whenever I met him in the corridor whether we had received word. That is no way to operate anything, including farming.

On water quality, it is important that there is flexibility. We need the best green land, yet farmers have to wait until the last minute to find out if there will be a month's extension because of the weather. There is no reason we cannot accept the recommendations made by the IFA. The ICMSA examined Schedule 4 in detail and put together a wording that would be acceptable to the farming community, asking for the co-operation of the Met Éireann and the flexibility needed. Let us think about how Met Éireann operates. People listen to the news at night and hear about the pollen count predicted by Met Éireann. There is no reason, with the co-operation of the two Departments and the farming organisations, the issue of calendar farming cannot be revisited to make the system more flexible and workable.

I support the comments of Deputy Crawford about the appointments to the working group. Even if people from the farming organisations are not directly appointed to the working group — I do not see a reason they should not be — is it the intention of Mr. Duggan to confer with the representatives of the various farming organisations while the nitrate regulations are being reviewed? I hope he will do so and would welcome the opportunity to hear his comments.

I had intended to refer to the working group. The real experts are the farmers. What place do they have in the working group?

I ask the delegates to respond to the points relevant to their areas in the sequence in which they made their presentations. Perhaps the IFA and the ICMSA might advise us whether they sought to be involved in the expert advisory group. Was a request refused? The expert group is made up of departmental and State agency officials, which is a narrow base. There is unanimous agreement among committee members on this point.

I refer to the buffer zone around the water extraction point. Is this relevant under the REPS? Can someone confirm that is the case? It is all well and good talking about buffer zones and nitrates directives, but if this is being caught elsewhere, it is a related issue. At this stage the buffer zones are included in some county development plans to protect water sources. Perhaps the delegates might comment on this issue.

It is a major issue in County Cavan. It is only when one goes into it in detail that farmers realise that they are at a major disadvantage. Buffer zones cause major problems.

As members of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, we are not tuned in to what happens at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There was a long debate on inspections among local authority officials and officials of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Has the issue been satisfactorily resolved? Is there duplication in making inspections? It was a major issue. Perhaps someone might clarify the point.

Mr. Pat Duggan

Does the Chairman want me to address all of the issues raised?

Mr. Duggan should address the points relevant to him.

Mr. Pat Duggan

I have made some notes——

I ask delegates to be as consise as they can.

Mr. Pat Duggan

A number of issues were raised by a number of members.

I ask Mr. Duggan to respond to the issues raised rather than to every Deputy and Senator.

Mr. Pat Duggan

That is my intention.

Deputy Hogan mentioned the improvements made and changes to water quality since the regulations were put in place. There was a serious decline in water quality from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. The position has been improving since. The most up-to-date information is available in the indicator report covering the period from 2006 to 2008 published by the EPA in 2009. The picture is a little mixed. The position in estuaries, bays and coastal waters has improved and nitrate levels in groundwaters are stable, perhaps with a slight improvement in nitrate levels in rivers. River water quality, based on the assessment of 13,000 km of river channel surveyed over the period, shows a slight disimprovement on the position in the previous period. I think there was a 1% drop in the level of water quality, a minor change. There will be fluctuations between various survey periods. Likewise, between 2004 and 2006 and 2006 and 2008 there was a slight decrease in the level in lakes. Generally, the position is slightly mixed but stable, with some improvements and disimprovements. However, there has been no great change overall. That is the factual position.

A number of speakers raised the issue of implementation of EU directives in Ireland and asked whether we took a far more stringent approach here in comparison to other countries. By and large, our record in implementing EU directives is poor. Much of the work we did on the nitrates directive was in response to a court action against Ireland. If we did not do it, we would pay huge fines. This was the last of 15 EU member states to implement the directive and put in place an action programme. To answer the question on whether our regulations are more stringent than those elsewhere, I will make a direct comparison with the position in Northern Ireland which adopted regulations at the same time as we did and which are very similar. There are differences in the detail on fertilisation limits, but overall where we sit relative to Northern Ireland and other member states is much the same.

Ireland had a derogation up to a limit of 250 kg of nitrogen per hectare, the highest level granted to EU member states under the directive. A number of member states have obtained derogations up to this limit. As the more general level is 230 kg, we have done quite well. It is not reasonable or correct to state the level of implementation here or the control we exert relative to other countries is more strict. That is not my understanding of where we sit with other member states.

The matter of the expert advisory group was raised. It was established by the Ministers for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is a scientific group. As such, it was not intended that it would engage in discussion or consultation with various parties or groups. We have a very short time period — about one month — in which to do the work. If we start to engage with lots of people, it will be difficult to do that work within the specified timeframe. The role of the group is clear: it is to consider the submissions made and responses received from the various parties. We have received 44 written submissions which are substantial and complex. The Teagasc submission is 120 pages long and deals with many complex technical and scientific issues. Much work and effort will go into evaluating and assessing it.

The derogation for Ireland is very important to the dairy sector. We hope to be in a position to attend a meeting of the nitrates committee towards the end of September to vote on a renewal of the derogation. We have had two meetings of the nitrates committee, at which both Departments — the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food — made presentations justifying the basis for Ireland's derogation and addressed questions from the nitrates committee. My sense is that the nitrates committee is, by and large, satisfied with Ireland's response and, provided we have established a nitrates action programme which is compliant and with which the European Commission is satisfied, the committee will vote in favour of granting a derogation to Ireland on the organic nitrogen limit at the end of September. Failing that, it will probably continue into next year.

We must get on with the work to be done. It is not the role of the expert group to come to a decision. The decision to be made will ultimately be agreed between the two Ministers. They make decisions, while the expert group will review at a technical level the work presented to both Departments in response to the consultation process. Teagasc is involved with the group and will make a valuable contribution to its workings. The EPA is also involved, as are experts from both Departments. It is a matter of coming to a common position on the various submissions received and making recommendations to both Ministers on what should be included in the final programme. However, it is a matter for the Ministers, ultimately, to make the decisions. In that context, I do not think it would be advisable to disrupt or complicate the work of the expert group within the tight timeframe. The group has been set up by the two Ministers and it is a matter for them to decide who sits on it; it is not for me or the Departments to comment on.

Various questions were asked about aspects of the submissions received. Deputy Sherlock asked for comments on the ICMSA's submission and aspects of Teagasc's submission, as did Deputy Crawford and others. The closing date for consultation was last Friday. We have received 44 submissions, some of which I have read. It would be unfair of me to comment at this stage because I have not formed a personal view. It is complicated stuff and needs more effort on all our parts to do the work properly, rather than making off-the-cuff comments which, in fairness, would probably not do justice to the amount of work that has gone into preparing the submissions.

These are the general points raised. If I have missed anything, the Chairman might remind me.

We will move on to Teagasc.

I raised——

I want to limit the time——

Mr. Duggan said the decision would be made by the Ministers.

The two Ministers.

If there is a split between them, which Minister will make the final decision?

A civil servant will not answer that question.

Will it be the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government?

The Deputy may ask the Minister.

Whom will it be?

The answer is that it will be agreed between the two Ministers.

It is a valid question.

Mr. Pat Duggan

Ultimately, the signing of the regulations is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The way this has worked up to now and I would expect on this occasion also, is that the final outcome would be done on the basis of both Ministers working jointly. That is the way it worked the last time.

Dr. Noel Culleton

Deputy Hogan asked about qualifications. When we understood there was to be a review of the nitrates directive, our director set up a working group and pulled experts from wherever he could find them to put into that group, from across the research disciplines, dairy, pigs and tillage. He pulled together scientific experts from all our various research stations and advisory services. We also consulted very widely with the stakeholders. Therefore, there was a very wide consultation period which allowed us to put forward this document. I reiterate that every amendment is based on science published in peer review scientific literature. There is very little opinion or point of view. We tried as much as possible to base the document on scientific published papers. That is reflected in the measured tone the document takes.

I will make a general statement about nutrients about which everybody is talking. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the two elements that get into water and cause pollution. Let us be clear. Nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for agriculture. They are what gives us a productive agriculture; they are as essential as breathing. However, a kilogram of phosphorus or nitrogen that gets into water is no good to anybody. It has cost the farmer a lot of money and is causing water quality problems. It is a win-win. If we can get an efficient agriculture that uses the nutrients which are bought by the farmer at considerable expense it is in his interest not to let it get into the water. I argue that science and agricultural practice are now in place to ensure that farming is very efficient and very little is lost to water. That is a general point on nutrients. It is similar in the case of slurry. Cows eat grass and produce slurry which is recycled back onto the land. It is good farming practice to make sure that slurry is recycled efficiently on the farm. Getting it into water is no good to anybody.

On the phosphorus deficit side, the phosphorus recommendations are very tight. On the one hand it is essential for agriculture, on the other we know if it gets into water it causes problems. Therefore, the regulations are very tight. However, there are increasing problems in that many of the regulations are essentially based on averages. If one takes the example of high yielding cows, they probably use more phosphorus. More phosphorus is being exported in milk than is actually being imported although the average figures appear right. Similarly, with regard to the regulation on phosphorus concentrates, averages are taken while in reality with the cut costs on farms many concentrates contain less phosphorus than the regulations allow. There is a whole range of fairly straightforward issues which, if they were rectified, would stop that problem. It is similar with phosphorus and cereals. The recommendations for phosphorus on cereals are such that what is exported on cereals can be higher than what is imported. Phosphorus is a bit like oil. It is a non-renewable resource and therefore we must use it sparingly and not let our soils become impoverished. The phosphorus issue is central to this. As other speakers said, there is an emerging picture that the regulation may be too tight. We must look very carefully at this.

Perhaps Mr. Lalor might answer on the issue of denitrification.

Mr. Stan Lalor

It is a very specific issue and is found on page 24 of the document. To put that paragraph on denitrification into context, that section of the document is based on a study of the time lag taken for a field scale agricultural practice to impact on water quality, be it surface or ground water. The study we carried out which looked at that lag time was specifically based on the travel time of water and the nutrients in water. The paragraph on denitrification states that in addition to the travel time one must also account for biological processes in the soil, of which denitrification is one. Basically, it converts nitrate into a benign nitrogen gas. The context of the denitrification reference is that it further increases that travel time and the lag time to see a result in water quality.

Mr. Mark Gibson

As part of the review of the nitrates regulations within Teagasc, we pulled together the collective knowledge that has accrued within the advisory service in the past four years since the inception of the regulations. There has been much interaction between our advisory staff and our clients as well as with the wider public. We conducted a number of workshops to connect up these issues. One issue that came up strongly was that there are definite opportunities to streamline the regulations and reduce the administrative burden, while another issue was related to the complexity of implementation of the regulations.

We are looking for practical solutions to produce practical legislation that will improve the compliance for everyone. One such solution was in respect of the application for a derogation. Each year, a farmer who applies for a derogation from the nitrates regulation is obliged to send a completed fertiliser plan to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Johnstown Castle. Rather than having a farmer construct a nutrient plan every year, we are proposing that they have a four-year plan that can be updated when there are significant changes to the farming system. Many farmers applying for a derogation use the grassland type systems and they generally do not change their systems too much.

We also want to streamline the dates involved. A farmer under a derogation is obliged to submit records to the Department in Johnstown Castle by 1 March. The farmer is obliged to send the plan to the Department by 31 March. There is much confusion on the ground about these dates. We suggest the two dates be combined into one to make it simpler for all.

We will move on now to Mr. Bryan.

Mr. John Bryan

The Chairman mentioned a few points, one of which related to buffer zones. The buffer zones in REPS 4 are currently in line with the nitrates regulations. They were taken directly from those regulations. We have 130,000 farmers and by the end of this year, 30,000 of them will be in REPS; therefore, 100,000 of them will not be in the scheme. Several farmers participated in group water schemes and owing to new regulations resulting from county councils building more houses, there must be a 300 metre circle of land that must be semi-sterilised from farmyard manure or organic fertiliser. We are saying that in cases such as these, the loss is too large as it could be a substantial area of a person's farm. We will have to enter discussions on compensation.

It is a good idea that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Teagasc and the Environmental Protection Agency might put an expert working group together. However, there might be too many experts in the room without common sense. I am not saying Dr. Culleton should always consult the stakeholders but it is a bad decision not to consult stakeholders during this period. I certainly would not get carried away with a timeframe if it meant adding on two or three days to consult the practical people who are farming on the ground. That consideration must be taken into account.

An agreement was reached between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government whereby the former Department would carry out the inspections for most county councils. Unfortunately, it is not happening in every county at the moment but it is important that it takes place. Dual inspections and extra visits on farms can be very stressful and we always make the point that inspections should be carried out with a level of courtesy. People should be treated with dignity and officials should not arrive and expect them to abandon what they are doing for the day. That puts much stress on people and farming is a low margin business with a great deal of pressure. Unannounced inspections are a source of extra stress.

Deputy Hogan referred to the huge investment farmers have made. No other country in Europe in proportion to the number of farmers put in €2.5 billion in such a short timeframe. As he said, the goalposts did change. While the 40:40:20 was welcomed it put huge pressure on farmers, some of whom had problems with their banks in the process.

Senator Cannon asked if there was a level of over-zealousness. Although Mr. Duggan said he does not believe there was, in certain areas there was a level of over-zealousness. We believe we must have a level playing pitch. Deputy Crawford referred to the fact that he meets people up and down the road where on one side of the Border, they can store farmyard manure in the field and can spread slurry. That is why I say experts need to have a little common sense. Farmers live on the land and must earn their living from it and want to mind it. Most of our ancestors were farmers. We want to pass it on and we will not exploit that land. We are there to nurture it and common sense would go a long way.

Deputy O'Sullivan asked a very pertinent question about employment. Certainly, in the changed economic climate, every job that can be created anywhere in the country is vital. Agriculture contributes to approximately 270,000 jobs between the food industry, the supply chain and exports and it makes a huge contribution to the economy. Under the Agri Vision 2020 proposals, dairy quotas will be abolished from 2015. There is a huge opportunity to grow our production based on our grass-based farming but we cannot nip it in the bud. The reality is that if we want to take advantage of the opportunities out there, those opportunities are in the beef sector. We have got to the stage where 99% of our beef production goes to real markets which is a major change from sending it to Egypt and Russia with export refunds. Our pig and poultry sector has made huge investments. There are great opportunities in every sector whether in processing pigs and poultry, processing beef, dairy processing and in the supply chain. Those are real jobs that can be created and are not based on fictional property values. However, we need a partnership. We need the Government, processors and farmers. It should not mean over-regulation.

The nitrates directive can play a huge part here. If we did not have the derogation which was mentioned where our most productive farmers can go from 170 kg of nitrogen per hectare to 250 kg, that would affect 5,500 to 6,000 farmers, or for pig and poultry men, the derogation on the P, phosphorus. Those are derogations that have worked well. Water quality is improving. The visual appearance of farmland has improved following huge investment. The €2.5 billion investment in farm sheds and storage is obvious and has resulted in tidier farmyards. As Dr. Culleton has signalled, it takes 20 years to see the full benefit, although one can see the short-term benefits. All that extra storage capacity will reap benefits in the long run.

Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned the lunacy of calendar farming being tied into three wet summers. That speaks for itself. He also referred to the working group. Deputy Bannon also referred to calendar farming. The best example I can speak about is the three wet summers which proves that picking an arbitrary date, ten years ago, for the spread of slurry does not make sense. The issue of employment was also raised and everything we can do in that area. It is clear that if we want to create employment we must be given assistance, much of which can be provided at no cost to the Government. We are well aware that the Exchequer has huge cost restrictions. However, there are areas where we can create employment at no cost to the Exchequer and we must encourage it.

Deputy Bannon asked about passing the buck between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food — certainly the setting up of the committee might be helpful. He also made a point about red tape but I do not wish to repeat myself. Senator Glynn raised the issues of water quality and calendar farming and said farming was vital to the economy.

Most of Deputy Sherlock's questions were targeted at Teagasc. He referred to agriculture and the local authority. I understand the point he was making. The investment agriculture made proportionately on an individual basis is massive, and there is room for local authorities to make that investment. At this stage, agriculture has made a huge investment.

Senator Coffey made the point about the position here versus that in England. Mr. Duggan referred to the position in general but there are a few specifics, one of which stands out more than others. As president of the IFA I visited farms in Italy, France and Scotland, and it is common sense to store farmyard manure on the ground rather than build big, expensive sheds to store it. We must consider the cost involved. I visited farms in Ireland where people have spent €30,000 or €40,000 erecting steel pillars, sheds and walls to house fertiliser. Such investment is a waste. There is no environmental risk once it is stored far enough away and on the right soil. It is acceptable in almost every country in Europe and the alternative makes no sense whatsoever.

I agree with the other comments made by Senator Coffey. His three points were on calendar farming, competitiveness and the buffer zone. Competitiveness must be a priority for the Government. That is the reason we would appreciate this committee's help in giving guidance to the two Departments because if we want to create jobs we must be competitive and competitive means that any regulation where the cost outweighs the benefit must be removed.

Deputy Crawford referred to the €2.5 billion invested and made a point about the 2020 committee and creating jobs. I am very clear on that. Mr. Cahill and I sat on that committee and played a proactive role in terms of creating jobs but assistance is required from all sides to achieve that. The two derogations are vital in that respect.

Most of the issues are the same in Northern Ireland including slurry spreading and farmyard manure.

I agree with Deputy Hoctor's point that we will have to roll-over the derogation on the nitrates, the 170 kgs of nitrogen per hectare to 250 kgs, and for those involved in the pig and poultry industries because it makes a big difference. We must also achieve the changes proposed in calendar farming.

Mr. Cullinan, the chairman of our pigs and pigmeat committee, might wish to make one or two relevant points.

I ask him to do so and we will then hear from Mr. Cahill.

Mr. Tim Cullinan

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the committee. Regarding many of the points made by Deputies and Senators, common sense must prevail. I am here representing two industries — the pig and poultry industries — and between us we employ approximately 16,000 people. We all know what is happening in the big, bad world and this is an issue that must be nourished and driven forward. We had the announcement last week on the vision for 2020 by the Taoiseach and the Minister who want to see the pig industry grow by 50%. That is a major challenge for us but there are no better people than the group of people in the Visitors Gallery to take up that challenge and drive forward the industry.

I will not labour the point but there are a few key issues for us, the first of which is the transitional arrangement. That has to happen for the pig industry. If it does not happen it will be lights out, so to speak, for many.

Teagasc has done the sums and put a cost on this, which I have to highlight. If we lose this transitional arrangement, for every extra kilometre that we have to transport slurry it will cost €1 million. We are looking at a cost of €20 million per annum, which will be €80 million in the next four years of the nitrates action programme.

I sat in a committee room of this House and in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food two years ago when we went through a serious disaster in the pig industry with the dioxin crisis. We are talking about producing food. The world population is growing. We want to produce more food. We saw on our television screens one weekend shelves empty of Irish pigmeat. We do not want to lose Irish pig farmers and have our market displaced with imports because that will result in more job losses.

Everyone spoke about double regulation. In the pig and poultry sectors, we have serious problems with double regulation. The nitrates directive came into force in 2006. We accepted this. We had many issues at the time. We obtained the transitional arrangement on the phosphorus. The problem is that, apart from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the EPA also polices the spread allowance where slurry is deposited on land, and this is wrong. We have been led to believe for a long number of years that this was a case in point, but Deputy Hoctor made a valuable point. There is much legislation already which states that the EPA's role is strictly dealing with site only and once the slurry leaves the farm, it is the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which deals with it. There are the animal by-products regulations.

Recently there was a recast of the IPPC in the Commission and it was looking at reducing the threshold to include smaller farms, for example, pig farms that would have cattle ajlso. The Commission was also looking at incorporating the spread lands into the scope of the IPPC. If it was looking at incorporating the spread lands, that means they are not included.

We have serious issues and a working group is in train. There are very serious issues in the two sectors I represent. It is paramount that we would be involved in whatever comes out of those working groups.

Mr. Pat Farrell

The reduction in fertiliser usage was referred to. We are back to the 1950 levels. Norton's in my local area may not take it from all of them this year because the protein level is too low. This is the big problem it has. Recycling has been ongoing for years. Farmers are the best at recycling, which is the buzzword at present. It is an industry that cannot carry extra costs in hauling pig manure and it will lead to more emissions. In transport, one produces emissions. They also produce 2,500 tonnes of phosphorus and we import 25,000 tonnes of phosphorus.

It would be unfair to state the nitrates regulations are the same North and South. There are many examples of where the farmyard manure can be stored and piled outside and spread all year round, the same with the slurry, and the water does not stay North or South — it flows over the Border. The most recent research published in the recent EPA environmental report shows that the local authorities' municipal sites are the most significant causes of the incidence of water pollution in Ireland.

Mr. Jackie Cahill

Mr. Dolan has a few points to make and I will leave it to him.

Mr. Ciaran Dolan

Our concern would be that after all the talk, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will implement the statutory instrument in its present form or with some modifications. The discussion at this meeting is important. It is no harm to remind ourselves of the background to this statutory instrument.

While the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government may refer to Ireland being the last, it is a question not of when we implemented the directive but how we implemented it. Equally, these Irish regulations are unique in the sense that for the first time it brought in a criminal charge by way of indictment. Let us not fool ourselves that these are some form of voluntary codes of practice. If one were to try to design a more complicated definition of such a simple but practical matter of soiled water, I do not believe one could find one. I have tried, and I have read it three or four times and perhaps five or six times. We obtained the opinion of legal counsel on the meaning of two paragraphs in the regulations, especially in the context of what constitutes soiled water. The latter is a very important aspect.

Not only is this matter very complicated to begin with, another Department provided a different interpretation. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food clarified — I use that word in a very loose sense — the position. The statutory instrument provides a very complicated definition of what constitutes soiled water. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food then put forward its interpretation. As a result, there was a good old-fashioned row about who said what and when. There is no proposal to change the definition.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should clarify the position with regard to how the regulations are to be applied and should forget about the interpretation. The Chairman and other members inquired as to who is in charge. The system of implementation is very complex. The two Departments have different understandings with regard to who is responsible. In addition, an inspection system is in place. As Mr. Duggan stated, however, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has ultimate responsibility and it is he who will decide the changes, if any, that are to be introduced.

This brings me on to the question of the expert group. It is clear the organisations which represent farmers have a vital economic interest in what transpires. It is my opinion that these organisations are quite capable of putting forward representatives who can deal with scientific issues and who can review not just our submissions but also those of the 42 other bodies, if that proves to be the case. This would be in addition to our being invited to explain or expand on our submission to the expert group. The relevant Minister should be quite happy with this suggestion. Some members of the committee stated that it would be a good idea. It is clear we must get it right.

At the launch of Food Harvest 2020, the Taoiseach continued the recent theme of the use of science and promoting the smart and green economies. If ever there was a sector in respect of which the use of science is appropriate and to which a green remit applies, it is the agriculture sector. We are concerned there will be a great deal of discussion and exchanges of views on science and on how it might be applied but that the statutory instrument published on 1 September will not be much different from the draft version. We will be informed that the statutory instrument is vital to obtaining the derogation.

It is for precisely this reason that we put forward a form of words which will bring about, for the first time, the commencement of the end of farming by calendar. While I do not suggest the wording we propose is definitive, it should be included in the statutory instrument. If events do not occur weather-wise, then something will not take place. We must begin to use our knowledge in a smart way rather than waiting for another period to do so. We have sufficient knowledge,based on experience and additional to the peer-reviewed data and scientific findings put forward by our colleagues from Teagasc, to make changes now. That is the key point we wish to emphasise.

I do not believe it impossible for the statutory instrument to be written during the course of the second action period in order that changes might be incorporated into law. The challenge in this regard will come about if the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government remains the sponsoring Department. There is a fear that any flexibility will give rise to an unbelievable level of pollution. It must be remembered, however, that we are discussing agriculture, not the nuclear power industry. That is our view.

We have had an informative discussion. I thank the departmental officials and the representatives of Teagasc, the IFA and the ICMSA for attending. I also thank committee members and other Oireachtas Members who have a keen interest in this issue but who are not members of the committee for attending because it is an important issue. I ask the officials, Teagasc representatives and the other people on the expert committee to take on board the issues raised at this meeting before the committee reports to the Minister. There is a consensus among this committee's members to support the submissions made.

Has the decision been taken?

We will assume the Minister has not taken the decision.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.30 p.m. until 21 September 2010.