Letters issued to some farmers along the River Suir in Co Tipperary last week to inform them that farm inspections will take place over this coming week.

The Tipperary County Council farm inspections are to be mostly farmyard-based, but watercourses and drains may be inspected on farms too.

Council officials may also inspect farm nitrates records, such as nutrient management plans and fertiliser records.

Farmers were urged in letters to make every effort to rectify any non-compliances with water quality rules ahead of these inspections.

Common breaches

Common breaches flagged to farmers include a lack of soiled water collection and poor silage effluent collection.

Runoff from collecting areas generating soiled water must also be collected and stored, with areas which cows cross creating large volumes of soiled water which cannot be diverted into surface drains.

Surface drains and clean water outfalls should be checked for signs of pollution.

Kerbing must be used where necessary to ensure soiled water does not make its way into drains, the council said.

Likewise, silage effluent must be collected in tanks, with effluent channels kept clear from blockages.

The letter states that silage bales should be stacked no more than two high and at least 20m from watercourses.

Fines and penalties

Local authorities are responsible for implementing the good agricultural practice regulations which govern water quality on farms.

Non-compliance with these regulations can result in court prosecution, fines and cross-referencing to the Department of Agriculture, which could in turn lead to penalties being applied to scheme payments.

Where a non-compliance is found on a farm availing of a nitrates derogation, a two-year exclusion from the derogation can apply.

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In these cases, farmers have until December to take their farm’s average stocking rate over the year to below 170kg nitrogen/ha or penalties will apply, with penalties increasing in size for repeat non-compliances.

Nitrates review

A mid-term review of the current nitrates action plan - currently ongoing - is expected to tighten up on some elements of slurry and fertiliser regulations.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue announced last week that he intends on introducing a new rule over the coming weeks which would require all slurry exports to be notified to the Department within four days of the manure moving between holdings.

The Minister stated that the move is being considered to allow slurry exports to be better policed in real time.

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