Almost three-quarters of drystock farmers admitted to not being fully conversant with the new regulations around fertiliser usage.

The provisional findings from a survey carried out by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) found that just 27% of farmers polled described themselves as “very aware” of the new rules.

In contrast, 55% claimed they were “somewhat aware”, while the remaining 18% said they were “not aware” of the regulations.

The INHFA survey follows warnings from the Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) that up to half the country’s farmers are potentially exposed to phosphorous-related penalties on direct payments and environmental schemes.

'Avalanche of penalties'

The ACA claimed that an avalanche of penalties could be imposed on farmers who exceed the phosphorous allowance for their holdings.

Consultants said farmers should have established the soil index of their grasslands for key nutrients such as phosphorous before they purchased fertiliser this year.

However, when asked if they knew the soil index levels of their lands, just one-third or 34% of survey respondents said they had the information.

A further 36% said they knew the soil index levels of some of the farm, while the remaining 30% of those surveyed admitted to having “no idea” of their property’s soil index levels.

Worryingly, given the problems with phosphate levels, 18:6:12 remained the most popular fertiliser with farmers who had purchased product.

On a positive note, 80% of the farmers surveyed said they had carried out soil sampling over the last 18 months. The remaining 20% had not undertaken any soil sampling.

Responding to the preliminary findings of the survey, INHFA president Vincent Roddy said it highlighted the need for more farmer-focused information and guidance on the issue of fertiliser usage.

“When we assess the preliminary findings, there is a concern that less than one-third of farmers are very aware of the regulations around spreading fertiliser,” Roddy said.

“While 55% are somewhat aware, which is positive, there is still a major concern around this matter and it is important that the Minister [for agriculture] and his Department recognise that many farmers are only starting to understand these new requirements,” he maintained.

“Once again, we are calling for assurances that farmers won’t be penalised if they inadvertently exceed their phosphorous limits,” Roddy said.