Ireland Conference

Closing the mineral cycle at farm level - Good practices to address the nutrient surplus in Southern and Eastern Ireland (28 October 2014)


The aim of the regional conference is to present the results of the current study “Resource efficiency in practice – Closing mineral cycles” commissioned by the DG Environment, European Commission. We will focus on the current state of nutrient use and availability in the Southern and Eastern Ireland region, losses which are occurring that could be avoided for resource and economic efficiency, and the corresponding good practices which were identified as potential ways to reduce nutrient surpluses at farm level and to close mineral cycles in the region. During the conference, we would like to initiate discussions amongst the participants regarding the need for action and identify regional solutions to effectively reduce the nutrient surplus in the region.

Agricultural production in Southern and Eastern Ireland primarily consists of livestock production and minimal arable / horticulture production. A high quantity of manure has led to significant nutrient loads of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the region.

Nutrient surpluses can negatively impact farming businesses since losses of nutrients represent unnecessary costs for fertilisers that do not end up benefiting the crops. Additionally, excess nutrients in the soil can cause acidification, which necessitates liming to help combat negative effects on this essential asset. Management techniques to maintain the health and fertility of the soil require financial investments and ongoing costs, but in the long term this could help to maintain yields and potentially require lower fertiliser purchases to restore nutrient balances. Optimising the balance of applied nutrients and uptake by plants not only avoids inefficient use of resources, but also avoids negative human and animal health and environmental impacts.

A number of positive actions are already being implemented within the region to reduce nutrient saturation. For instance, the EU (Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters) Regulations 2014 established a set of measures, which contribute to the reduction of nutrient surpluses. These measures establish inter alia that
•    livestock manure and slurry containing more than 170 kg N/ha*year cannot be spread,
•    farmers must have sufficient manure storage capacity (which are kept leak-proof and structurally sound) to meet the minimum requirements of the regulations, and
•    buffer zones must be respected when spreading fertilisers.

In addition to existing initiatives, additional opportunities for increasing nutrient resource efficiency are available and should be exploited to benefit farm businesses and the wider region.

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