The nitrates directive, which is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, requires that an action programme which in turn must include a measure relating to periods when the land application of fertiliser is prohibited. The dates proposed in the draft action programme which was submitted for consultation were selected having regard to the length of the growing season, soil types and weather conditions in Ireland. The application of nutrients during the winter period can present a risk to the environment and is considered to be an inefficient way of utilising valuable plant nutrients.
In 1996 my Department and the then Department of the Environment, in consultation with the farming organisations, published the code of good agricultural practice to protect waters from pollution by nitrates. The dates proposed in the draft action programme for limitations on land application of fertiliser are in general agreement with those identified for this purpose in the 1996 code.
In Sustaining Progress, the Government stated that "recognising the importance of the Nitrates Directive and its impact on certain farmers, a number of initiatives shall be taken in the context of optimising the use of available EU and national budgetary resources". These initiatives included a review of REPS with higher payment rates, and changes to the terms and conditions of the farm waste management scheme and dairy hygiene scheme in particular increasing the income and eligible investment ceilings. The improvements in the farm waste management scheme and dairy hygiene scheme have already been delivered, and proposals for REPS, including an average 28% increase in payments, are with the Commission.