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News > Dairy Farmers – Know Your Limits


Dairy Farmers – Know Your Limits

December 22, 2020

The Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) is designed to protect surface waters and ground waters from pollution by agricultural nutrients. The first NAP to apply across the whole of Northern Ireland was first introduced in 2007. It contains a range of measures and controls on livestock manures and chemical fertilisers. The NAP is reviewed every four years. The new NAP carries forward all the measures from the previous Nitrates Action Programme and Phosphorus (Use in Agriculture) Regulations.

Kieran McCartan, CAFRE Agri-environment adviser in Omagh, explains that nitrogen loading is a key component of the Nutrients Action Programme and is a measure of stocking rate which has an upper farm limit of 170kg nitrogen per hectare per year from livestock manure. It is based on the nitrogen from the average number of livestock kept on the farm over the year and the land area actively farmed and also takes manure imports and exports into account.

Some new nitrogen and phosphorus excretion rates have applied from January 2020. For dairy farmers one important change is the new rate for excretion for nitrogen of 100kg/N/year per cow. This is a 10% increase on the previous rate. These updated rates will increase the manure nitrogen loading on dairy farms. Therefore, some dairy farms will need to take action to ensure they comply with the 170kg/nitrogen/ha/year limit.

Kieran advises that dairy farms can reduce their nitrogen limit through a combination of exporting slurry, renting additional land and reducing livestock numbers. If a farmer exported slurry in 2020, they will now need to submit export records by 31 January 2021. This can be done using DAERA Online Services available at 

If a farmer has a nitrogen loading above 170kg N/ha/year then you apply for a NAP Derogation which will allow you to operate up to a limit of 250kg N/ha/year, subject to additional conditions and nutrient management measures. You need to apply annually for this derogation and keep additional records. The deadline for applications is 1 March for that year. There is a new condition this year for farms with a derogation where at least 50% of slurry produced on the holding shall be applied by 15 June of each year.  In addition low emission slurry spreading equipment shall be used for any slurry applications after 15 June of each year on derogated farms. Also, if the conditions of the derogation are not met, the farmer is not eligible for a derogation the following year.

Kieran recommends that you check the position of your farm by calculating the Nitrogen Loading for your farm and calculating the Phosphorus Balance for your farm as derogated farms must have a Phosphorus  Balance under 10 kg P/ha/year. Use this information to help decide if a derogation is an option for your farm in 2021. Farm businesses are advised to check their nutrient loading levels by using the CAFRE Nutrient Calculators within DAERA’s online services. Further information is also available from CAFRE agri-environment advisers if required.

Compliance with the NAP is one of the Cross Compliance Statutory Management Requirements.  Therefore, farmers claiming Basic Payment Scheme and other direct payments are required to comply with the NAP Regulations.  The measures relating to the Phosphorus Regulations are now included in the new NAP.  This means that the Cross Compliance Verifiable Standards will now also apply to the land application of chemical phosphorus.