Dáil debates

Tuesday, 6 December 2005

Adjournment Debate.

EU Directives.

8:00 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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The pig and poultry industries account for 6% of total nitrogen usage and 10% of total phosphate usage in Irish agriculture. In 2002, the Department of Agriculture and Food published a report, Eco-Friendly Farming, which noted that in regard to the rural environment protection scheme, which had been in place since 1994, we had gone far beyond the minimum level of compliance required under the EU scheme at that time. The Department made its own admission in that regard and acknowledged that there was a high level of enforcement in Ireland. On that basis, the proposals on the nitrates directives go beyond what was set out in the REPS plans and the good farming practice guidelines. They also go beyond Teagasc's green book which was last revised in 2004.

I am disappointed that nobody from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government thought it worthwhile to come to the House to respond to these issues. That Department has clearly gone to ground on this matter. Why has it gone further than the scientific basis provided by Teagasc? The recommendation on the phosphorous threshold rests at a P index of three on the basis of REPS plans, the good farming practice codes and the Teagasc green book. The new recommendations reduce this level to a P index of two. In regard to phosphorous, a farmer could in the past choose to operate either on an index of two or three. It was up to the farmer and based on the type of farming practice. For example, a farmer who wanted early grass would opt for a P index of three.

At last week's meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food, Mr. Tom Quinlivan from the Department of Agriculture and Food said that practically everything set out in the table regarding the P index corresponds with Teagasc recommendations. He went on:

As I said, some elements were introduced to bring clarity and allow for enforcement. There were some amendments but they were generally minor and reflect the Teagasc recommendations.

Last Friday, however, Dr. Seamus Crosse, the chief technical officer of Teagasc, sent an internal memo to the Departments of Agriculture and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, stating that Teagasc would not be in a position to substantiate this report legally or otherwise. This is based on what Mr. Quinlivan had said earlier in the week at the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government rejects that letter from Dr. Crosse on the basis that it did not come from the director of Teagasc. The reality, however, is that the Department has cooked the books on the issue of the nitrates directive and is not prepared to provide any shred of scientific evidence to support the restrictions it proposes under the nitrates directive. As they stand, the proposals will make every REPS plan illegal. REPS is supposed to be the benchmark for good farming practice and in terms of environmental protection. However, all that is being thrown out the window along with all the scientific evidence Teagasc has to back it up. Figures are now being plucked out of the sky by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There is no scientific evidence to support its position. Teagasc has stated clearly that it has not provided the scientific evidence to support these proposals and is withdrawing its support.

It is unbelievable that representatives of both Departments have acknowledged that pig and poultry producers will have a significant problem early next year with the transition from the current system to the new one as set out by the nitrates directives. However, nobody is prepared to do anything about it or provide any flexibility. It is a damning indictment of both Departments.

9:00 pm

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Naughten for raising this issue. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, would like to thank him and apologise for his absence. The nitrates directive was adopted on 12 December 1991. It has the objective of protecting waters against pollution from agricultural sources, with the primary emphasis on the management of livestock manure and other fertilisers.

The European Court of Justice delivered a judgment in March 2004 that Ireland was non-compliant with the directive by reason mainly of failing to establish an action programme, including regulations to protect waters against pollution by farming. After lengthy negotiations and consultations with all relevant interests and partners in farming organisations, Ireland's national action programme under the nitrates directive was formally submitted to the European Commission on 29 July 2005. In October, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, together with the Department of Agriculture and Food jointly issued a consultation paper regarding draft regulations to give legal effect to the action programme.

A total of 76 submissions have since been received from a wide range of stakeholders. Both Departments have reviewed these submissions and the possibility of amending the regulations is being pursued with the European Commission. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government expects to make the final regulations this month. This will allow Ireland to pursue its case for a derogation with the European Commission and other member states.

Ireland's original proposal for a derogation from the general livestock manure limit laid down in the directive, 170 kg of nitrogen per hectare per year, was submitted to the Commission in November 2004. This has now been updated and submitted informally. Our proposal is designed to allow certain farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg. The scope of the derogation being sought will cater not only for intensive dairy farmers, but also specifically for grassland holdings importing manure from intensive pig and poultry farms. Officials from the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Agriculture and Food will give an initial presentation on Ireland's case for a derogation to the EU nitrates committee on 12 December next, with the aim of securing agreement on a derogation by mid-2006. The Minister, Deputy Roche, is aware of the concerns which have been expressed about the pig and poultry sectors. He has had a series of meetings with the farming organisations to discuss the concerns of all farmers and the challenges which arise from the directive. The fertilisation standards for phosphorus proposals to the regulation are firmly based on Teagasc's nutrient advice.

The Government has put proposals to the Commission which will mean that pig and poultry farmers will be eligible for the first time for grant aid for additional manure storage facilities. The level of grant aid, which is being increased for all farmers, will be as high as 70% in some counties. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has announced her intention to introduce a scheme to support the demonstration of new technologies, such as anaerobic and aerobic digestion systems, to help the agriculture sector to meet the requirements of the nitrates directive. The purpose of the scheme is to look at new and emerging technologies for the treatment of livestock manure, particularly from the pig and poultry sectors.

The Government recognises the importance for pig and poultry farmers of having land on which they can spread manure. Other farmers need to recognise that the various forms of manure are valuable nutrients which can be used to replace expensive chemical fertilisers. Farmers can help themselves and each other by using manure. I understand that the Minister for Agriculture and Food will ask Teagasc shortly to undertake an active promotion campaign to demonstrate the nutrient value of slurry and the savings that farmers can achieve by using it instead of chemical fertiliser. The Minister, Deputy Roche, has asked me to reiterate that Teagasc fully assisted in the preparation and development of the fertilisation tables contained in the draft regulations. On 21 November last, Teagasc provided observations on the draft regulations which did not address or call into question the proposed phosphorus standards. The fertilisation standards proposed in the regulations are agronomically sound and will support optimum crop yields while providing the necessary environmental safeguards.

There has been some confusion about the precedent set in the Dutch rules and regulations on fertilisation standards for the purposes of the nitrates directive. The standards operating in the Netherlands have a proper legal basis in that country and are not merely recommendations or guidelines. I understand that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government spoke today to the director of Teagasc, who confirmed that Teagasc's information on the non-binding nature of the application limits in the Netherlands was based on a non-final draft of the Dutch regulations. Teagasc has since confirmed that the fertiliser limits in the finalised Dutch regulations are mandatory. Teagasc will write to the Minister to confirm that this is also its understanding of the matter.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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It is a disgrace that the Minister was not prepared to come to the House.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 December 2005.