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Boost for dairy farmers from new nitrates estimates research

March 14th, 2024 10:39 AM

By Martin Claffey

Boost for dairy farmers from new nitrates estimates research Image
Changes to nitrates measures from calves show reduced nitrogen levels produced by calves. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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ADJUSTMENTS to how nitrates extraction rates from calves and cattle are calculated could lower farmers estimated nitrates output – a key consideration for West Cork farmers using the derogation. 

This follows a meeting of the Agriculture Water Quality Group and follows on from scientific work carried out by Teagasc on bovine nutrient excretion rates.  

The research found that excretion rates for young calves is lower than previously estimated, and that dairy farmers can reduce their cows’ nutrient excretion rate by limiting the level of crude protein in concentrate feed. The findings were validated by University College Dublin. 

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said it will now be used to decide farmer compliance with regulations

‘On foot of that research, I intend to bring these adjustments into the review of the Fifth Nitrates Action Plan, which will be subject to appropriate assessment,’ said Minister McConalogue.

‘Once signed into law, these figures will be used in determining a farm’s compliance for the 2024 year. To allow farmers to plan for proposed changes, I will be writing to farmers shortly to signpost the proposals going into the appropriate assessment.’

Minister of Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has announced changes to the way nitrates are measured. (Photo: Shutterstock)


The Dept of Agriculture also said that a review of the Nitrates Action Plan will also propose a reduction in the maximum chemical allowance for grassland, and a reduction in the timeframe for reporting livestock manure movements between farms to allow for improved verification (four days for reporting livestock manure movements between farms). 

‘The changes, whilst relatively modest, will benefit enterprises and farmers while also protecting water quality,’ said Minster McConalogue.  

‘In Budget 2024, I announced the continuation of accelerated capital allowances for investments in manure storage facilities and changes to Tams for farmers that want to build additional slurry storage facilities. I am confident that working together these initiatives will have a positive impact on water. 

‘I want to acknowledge the constructive input of the Water Quality Working Group.  This work must continue so that we can place ourselves in the best position to secure our nitrates derogation post-2025.’

West Cork Senator Tim Lombard welcomed the proposed changes from the Agriculture Water Quality Group. ‘Retention of Nitrates Derogation must be a priority and these common sense, practical changes will benefit farmers and put us in a position to retain derogation after 2025.’

The changes will be subject to appropriate assessment before the Dept of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which is responsible for the Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters Regulations (SI No. 113 of 2022).

ICMSA president Denis Drennan said the net effect is that ‘farmers will be able to retain more of their existing herd without having to rent additional land and export slurry’. However, he expressed frustration that farmers are being ‘left in the limbo’ as the formal implementation of these measures is delayed through what he called ‘a failure of the department to move on the matter earlier and EU regulatory

What did Teagasc find?

Teagasc research shows the calf excretes 1kg of nitrogen in the first three months of its life. While it excretes a further 20kg of nitrogen over the remaining nine months. Subject to conclusion of the process, the current annual excretion rate of 24kg of nitrogen for the 0–1-year-old animal will be updated to reflect two sub-categories the calf aged 0-3 months and cattle aged 4-12 months. The nutrient excretion rate for cattle aged 1-2 will be amended to 55kg in respect of Females and 61kg in respect of Males reflecting most recent scientific work.

Dairy farmers will have the option to gain recognition for reductions in concentrate crude protein beyond regulatory requirements. In line with Teagasc research, appropriate reductions in nutrient excretion rate will apply across all three milk yield bands.

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