Further nitrates derogation for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has had its nitrates derogation extended. The rest of the UK could struggle to meet limits when its derogation ends in 2012

The European Commission has extended Northern Ireland's derogation from the nitrates directive.

Cattle farmers in the province will now be allowed to apply up to 250 kilograms of manure per hectare per year to their land until 2015, the commission announced on 25 February. After that, the limit will drop to 170kg/ha.

Cattle farmers in the rest of the UK only have the derogation until 31 December (ENDS Report, June 2009).

Nearly half of the UK's cattle farmers do not have enough slurry storage in place to comply with the lower limit, the National Farmers Union (NFU) said in February when it released details of a survey of its members.

Many of those surveyed said they hope to export slurry to meet the requirement, rather than investing in storage or other measures to cut production. However, the NFU points out this may not be an option unless other nearby farms have spare capacity.

The NFU has been warning of this problem for several years (ENDS Report, February 2007). The government should use fiscal incentives to promote investment, it says.

The nitrates directive's limits are designed to cut agricultural pollution of surface and groundwater.

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