Does your farm need a nitrates derogation?

If you are an intensive grassland farmer, now is the time to be thinking about your nitrogen loading and nitrates derogation application.

Monday, 25th March 2019, 7:19 am
Updated Monday, 25th March 2019, 7:21 am
If you are an intensive grassland farmer, now is the time to be thinking about your nitrogen loading and nitrates derogation application.

Nitrogen loading is a measure of stocking rate which has an upper farm limit of 170kg N per hectare per year from livestock manure.

It is based on the nitrogen produced from the average number of livestock you keep over the year and the land area that you actively farm. It will also take manure imports and exports into account.

Intensive farmers with a stocking rate above the 170kg N/ha/year limit can apply for a nitrates derogation to increase their N loading limit to 250 kg N/ha/year. The derogation is available if you keep cattle or sheep, but in practise it mainly applies to intensive dairy farms.

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Nitrates derogation applications must be submitted online to NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency). This year the submission deadline date is 23:59 on 31 March 2019, for all fertilisation accounts for 2018 and derogation applications for 2019.

Please note it is advised that a fertilisation plan for 2019 is also required and it should be in place.

The main requirements of the derogation which farmers must meet are:

r Must have an N loading under 250kg N/ha/yr;

r At least 80% of their area must be grassland;

r Must have a phosphorus balance of no more than 10kg P/ha/yr;

r Must apply for a derogation to NIEA each year by the deadline;

r Must submit a fertilisation account for the previous year (if had a derogation the previous year) to NIEA each year by the deadline;

r Must prepare a fertilisation plan each year.

r Must undertake soil analysis; and comply with some additional restrictions on crop rotation and soil management.

Further information is available in the nitrates guidance booklet which is available at

Operating under a derogation requires you to keep additional records and have good administration to ensure that important deadlines are met.

While the derogation has become much more popular, many farmers are still not applying for the derogation and are taking alternative approaches such as exporting slurry, taking on more rented land or reducing stock numbers to meet the nitrogen loading limit. However, these can be expensive options and it is important to consider how you want your farm business to develop in the future as the nitrates derogation does allow farms to grow by allowing herd size to increase whilst protecting the environment. It is an important consideration for the farm’s future viability and profitability.

Using the CAFRE nutrient calculators on DAERA online services can help you find out your N loading figure and P balance for the farm and allow you to determine if you require a derogation.

Farmers considering the derogation should seek further advice from their advisers, farming organisation or agricultural consultant to help them determine their eligibility for application and also to understand the record keeping obligations when operating with a derogation.


r If you were in derogation in 2018, you must submit your fertilisation account by 23:59 on 31 March 2019.

r If you wish to have a derogation for 2019 you must apply by 23:59 on 31 March 2019.

Fertilisation accounts and applications can be submitted on the NIEA website at