The Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) aims to improve water quality by protecting water against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. In particular, it is about promoting better management of animal manures, chemical nitrogen fertilisers and other nitrogen-containing materials spread onto land.

Nitrates Action Programme

Compliance with the Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) is one of the Cross Compliance Statutory Management Requirements. Farmers claiming Single Farm Payment and other direct payments are required to comply with the NAP Regulations.  All farms in Northern Ireland are required by law to comply with The Nitrates Action Programme Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 (as amended by The Nitrates Action Programme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015) as well as The Phosphorus (Use in Agriculture) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014.

Records relating to the export of organic manure must be submitted annually to NIEA by 31 January of the following year.

NIEA is introducing a new system for the on-line submission of records for manure export forms from January 2018. The new system will make it easier and quicker for farmers, or their agents, to submit records while at the same time reducing the risk of errors and hence potential penalties being applied to the Basic Payments.

This on-line submission of manure export records for non-derogated farms sits alongside the CAFRE Nutrient Calculators which farmers are already familiar with and use to calculate their nitrogen loading and storage capacity.

Please be aware that failure to keep these records and submit them to NIEA by 31 January of the following year may have implications for any payments under  existing area based payment schemes.

Poultry litter storage and spreading

Farmers planning to store poultry litter in fields should contact the NIEA’s Agricultural Regulation Team for approval prior to placing the litter in the field. Poultry litter may only be stored in field heaps for a maximum of 120 days in the field where it is to be applied and must be covered with an impermeable membrane within 24 hours of placement in the field.

Nitrates directive derogation

Since 2007 the European Commission (the Commission) has granted a derogation from the Nitrates Directive for Northern Ireland from a land application limit of 170 kg nitrogen per hectare per year from grazing livestock manures up to 250 kg nitrogen per hectare per year for intensive grassland farms which meet certain criteria.  The Commission renewed the derogation for the duration of the 2015-2018 action programme was approved in December 2014.

Subject to individual farms meeting certain key measures, farmers may farm above the 170 kg Nitrogen/hectare/year limit to a limit of 250 kg Nitrogen/hectare/year for grazing livestock manure. The precise terms and conditions of the derogation are set out in the EC Decision 2015/346/EU.  At least 80 percent or more of the agricultural area of a farmer’s holding must be grassland.  Farmers cannot apply more than 250 kg Nitrogen/hectare per year from grazing livestock manure to land. This includes application by the animal itself.

Manure from pigs and poultry is not eligible for the higher derogation limit and therefore must not exceed the 170 kg Nitrogen/hectare/year limit.

Application guidance and form

If you consider that you may be eligible to apply for the nitrates derogation, you can download the application form below, or you can contact Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) for an application form at:-

Application forms are also available from your local DAERA office.

Fertilisation plan

The Nitrates Directive Derogation Fertilisation plan must be kept on farm. It is not submitted to NIEA but must be prepared and made available for inspection by 1 March on farm each calendar year.

Fertilisation account

The Nitrates Derogation Fertilisation Account must be received by NIEA by 1 March for the previous calendar year. If you operated under derogation in 2014 and you are applying for derogation in 2015, your application for derogation for the calendar year 2015 must be accompanied by your fertilisation account for the calendar year 2014.

P Balance

The P Balance Worksheet will assist to calculate the P Balance on the farm. You do not have to complete this worksheet, however if you do, this worksheet can be submitted with the rest of the Fertilisation Account and you do not have to complete the P Balance section of the Fertilisation Account on pages 9-16.

Alternatively, you can access the P Balance Calculator through the DAERA online services.  Using the P Balance Calculator you can print the 'Detailed Balance Summary'. Again this can be submitted with the rest of your Fertilisation Account and you do not have to complete the P Balance section of the Fertilisation Account.

Derogation reports

In accordance with the conditions of the Derogation Decision, Northern Ireland reports annually to the Commission on the uptake of derogation by farm businesses, evaluation of the implementation at farm level and the status of water quality.

Article 10 report

In accordance with Article 10 of the Directive, Member States must report every four years to the Commission on the status of water quality and the impact of action programmes on water quality and agricultural practices. The UK report for 2012 to 2015 was completed in 2016 and the Northern Ireland section of it can be downloaded below. The Department also produced a short summary of the report.

The Phosphorus (Use in Agriculture) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014

Phosphorus run-off from soil to surface waters is one of the main contributors to the eutrophication process in Northern Ireland. The Phosphorus (Use In Agriculture) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 have been made by the Department of the Environment to help control eutrophication by limiting the amount of chemical phosphorus fertiliser applied to land to that required for crop growth. 

More information

If you have any further queries in relation to these regulations please do not hesitate to contact the Agricultural Regulations Team.

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