Dáil Éireann - Volume 556 - 07 November, 2002

Written Answers. - Fertiliser Usage.

  28. Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on whether Irish farmers are relying too heavily on fertilisers; his further views on the implications of this on the environment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20834/02]

  Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): There is a downward trend in fertiliser usage by Irish farmers. Sales of fertiliser in Ireland decreased from 1.896 million tonnes in 1995-96 to 1.546 million tonnes in 2000-01, representing a reduction of 18.5%. Reductions in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for the corresponding period were 11.6%, 31.5% and 29.7% respectively. There are strong indications that the downward trend in fertiliser use will be reflected in the final figures for 2001-02. The 1994 introduction of the REP scheme, which requires participants to implement nutrient management plans, has contributed to the reduction in fertiliser sales in recent years. The widespread use of nutrient management planning, which requires a soil testing programme to determine the actual nutrient status of the soil, has helped to raise awareness among farmers of the importance of matching nutrient supply to crop demand.

  Teagasc constantly reviews its recommended application rates for fertilisers in the light of national and international research findings, changes in farm practices and the onset of new grass and crop varieties with different nutrient requirements. Teagasc published its most recent fertiliser advice for grassland and tillage crops last December. The recommended application rates take into account the need to protect the environment from the consequences of excessive fertiliser use. I am confident that the latest Teagasc fertiliser recommendations strike an appropriate balance between optimising agricultural productivity and protecting the environment. I am encouraged by the findings of the recently published EPA report, Water Quality in Ireland 1998-2000, which showed that for the first time since national surveys commenced, the length of unpolluted river channel in Ireland had increased.