New Nitrates Action Programme and Derogation approved

Date published: 27 March 2019


The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has finalised the fourth Nitrates Action Programme.


As a result, DAERA has now also secured approval from the EU Nitrates Committee for renewal of the associated Nitrates Derogation for Northern Ireland.

The Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) has been in place since 2007 and implements the EU Nitrates Directive to protect rivers, lakes and groundwaters from pollution by nutrients from agricultural sources.

Following a consultation period on the proposed NAP for 2019 - 2022, DAERA has carefully considered the issues raised by stakeholder groups and made a range of changes to the draft Action Programme as a result. These include:

  • removal of ban on the use of Urea chemical fertiliser, subject to further consideration and inclusion in the forthcoming Ammonia Action Plan consultation
  • removal of the requirement to cover existing above ground slurry stores. The practicalities of this measure will be considered further under our Ammonia work
  • while we are introducing a requirement for larger farms to spread slurry using Low Emission Spreading Equipment (LESSE), the thresholds have been changed as a result of the consultation. The consultation figure of 100 livestock units has been changed to 200 livestock units for cattle farms and the threshold for pig farms has been changed from 10,000 kg in the consultation to 20,000 kg of manure nitrogen production per year
  • other changes include reduced fertilisation plans requirements and simplifications to reduce the administrative requirements on farmers and inclusion of flexibility on some measures.

Finalisation of the Nitrates Action Programme has enabled DAERA to complete the formal process with EU Nitrates Committee to renew the Nitrates Derogation for Northern Ireland.

The derogation is important for many cattle farms as it enables them to maintain cattle numbers and production levels by implementing additional environmental management measures. The new derogation will cover the period 2019 – 2022, in parallel with the new Action Programme.

A DAERA spokesman said: “The changes we have made to the Action Programme as a result of the consultation, represent a pragmatic and workable approach, whilst still progressing towards wider policy objectives. We have worked tirelessly to strike an appropriate balance between the needs of the environment, the need to comply with our legal requirements and the need to support the agri-food industry. 

"This is a significant step forward in protecting the environment whilst ensuring we have a sustainable agri-food sector. The new Action Programme will help to ensure the progress that has been achieved in improving water quality in our rivers and lakes over the past 12 years continues.

“The timescale to progress these issues has been very challenging, particularly in relation to the fixed dates for the EU Nitrates Committee. However, confirmation of an approved four year derogation has provided much needed certainty to the industry and I’m positive it will be welcomed by those affected.”

The EU Nitrates Committee approved the renewal of the Northern Ireland Nitrates Derogation on 27 March 2019, voting unanimously to approve the derogation. This concluded the formal application process with the Committee over the past 12 months. 

Notes to editors: 

  1. DAERA has a statutory obligation to review the Nitrates Action Programme every four years and make amendments and improvements. Each Action Programme covers a four year period, and the NAP 2019 – 2022 will be the fourth NI NAP.
  2. The Department has been working to secure a further “derogation” which allows certain (more intensively stocked) cattle farms to operate at a higher rate of nutrient application than the default 170kg Nitrogen/hectare/year, subject to implementing additional environmental controls, such as soil testing and fertilisation accounts.
  3. The contents of the Nitrates Action Programme for 2019 - 2022 must be agreed with the Commission before it will consider and approve a new derogation. The conditions of the derogation are set by the Commission.
  4. The Department recognises that investing in LESSE is a cost for the industry and has already provided some £4million in grant aid for over 400 advanced slurry spreading machines through the METS Scheme and the Farm Business Improvement Scheme in recent years.  DAERA will now consider options for further financial support. The change in threshold compared with the original proposals will significantly reduce costs to the industry and the number of farms included from some 3,000 to approximately 1,100 farms.
  5. Follow DAERA on Twitter and Facebook.
  6. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or via email. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer on 028 9037 8110.

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