Mr. O'Donovan and others have acknowledged the urgent need to put into the public domain information on this matter in order to remove the confusion that exists. That is being done through the publication of a guidance document and by way of an information campaign.
I will try to remove some of the confusion about the regulations. The regulations were made by the Minister in December and came into force on 1 February 2006. The only aspect of the regulations currently under review is the level of phosphorus fertilisation limits. The regulations are, in all other respects, as made and will be implemented.
There are many aspects to the regulations, including storage period, storage capacity, closed periods and so on. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government received substantial advice from Teagasc on several aspects of the regulations. On fertiliser limits, the main topic today, the main input of Teagasc into the fertiliser guidelines is the fertiliser tables as published in the green book. The regulations are not written on tablets of stone. We know fertiliser standards and guidelines change with research, time and changing practices. The Department's consultation documents acknowledge that fertiliser should be consistent with practice as set out in the Teagasc guidelines or any published amendment to that document. We always envisaged that the standards should be subject to review, as appropriate.
The current controversy and the review of the phosphates regulations arise from the difficulties faced by pig farmers and the impact of the spreading of pig slurry. The larger pig industries have pig-rearing operations but do not have any land on which to manage the product they generate. Therefore, they are dependent on third parties. This is an inherent problem in the pig industry. Reference is often made to the position in the Netherlands and Denmark. In the Netherlands the practice is to transport pig slurry from pig industries to tillage lands. Dairy farmers generally need their own land for the spreading of the livestock manure generated by their own dairy herds but tillage farmers do not have access to their own on-farm waste. That is probably the main structural change that has to be made. What we need to do is to bring together all of the advice or necessary measures between the different sectors of farming to try to deal with the issue.
In the case of pig farmers, if there are lands which have received significant applications of pig slurry during the years, it is virtually certain that they are over-loaded with phosphorus. It is possible that they are grossly overloaded. That presents a problem. Others are in exactly the same boat. Those who produce pig slurry or other waste product that needs to be spread on land have to search to find land which has a low phosphorus level that can accept additional amounts. Those in this category include not only pig farmers but also dairy food industries and breweries. Local authorities are in the same situation as they have to search for and find outlets for sewage sludge.
I emphasise the importance attached to Ireland being able to pursue a derogation in a focused, structured and cohesive way. A huge plank of our approach to implementing the nitrates directive was to have the regulations made on 11 December in order that on the following day, 12 December, Ireland could make a presentation to the European Union nitrates committee for a derogation. We have set the most ambitious target yet. Only two derogations have been achieved for Denmark and the Netherlands and they took years to negotiate. Austria's application is also coming along quickly. We have set a target of achieving a derogation by the middle of this year. We want to pursue the issue vigorously. It is a huge weakening of our position that there is this question mark against the phosphorus standards and, as a consequence, the regulations, which does not help our case. It is extremely important for larger dairy farmers that we achieve a derogation. It is equally important for pig farmers that we achieve it because, uniquely, the derogation provisions in the directive were intended primarily for farmers who generated on their own farms more livestock manure than was allowed, 170 kg. We have sought a derogation to allow farmers to accept waste from third parties.
There is no element of complacency among the Departments involved in dealing with the issue. We are exploring every avenue and novel possibility in every imaginative way we can to address the challenges presented in implementing the regulations.