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Address by Minister Michael Creed T.D. Launch of the Fertiliser Association of Ireland 50th anniversary, Buswells hotel, Dublin 25 January 2018

Ladies and gentlemen I am delighted to have been asked here today to join you as the Fertiliser Association of Ireland celebrates the 50th anniversary of its formation, and to launch the programme of events planned for 2018. The association’s theme for the year “Sustainability through efficient use of fertiliser” is very relevant for the challenges that exist for agriculture at present.

In many ways, this is a unique Association.  Its members are drawn from a wide representative section of the agricultural industry; representing research, advisory, farming, regulation, wholesale and retail sections of the trade. Some of the people involved in setting up the Fertiliser Association of Ireland  going back as far as 1968 were; Dr. Tom Walsh, Director of An Foras Taluntais, staff from my own Department, the Advisory Services, farming organisations and of course the fertiliser trade itself.

I believe that the Association was ahead of its time in bringing together stakeholders and experts in their respective fields to focus on efficient use of fertiliser in producing quality food.  It is through collective engagement and exchange of information that the best results can be achieved.

The association has played a pivotal role in disseminating information to all stakeholders. This has been  achieved through a range of activities including ; an annual scientific meeting, a spring supplement published in the Farmers Journal, submissions on the Nitrates directive and Nitrates reviews, soil science award for UCD students and in conjunction with Teagasc, a Crops Nutrition Management Course that has over 300 participants to date. Most recently a series of Technical bulletins have been published in relation to soil sampling, Soil pH and Lime and the precise application of fertiliser. In line with advances in technology the FAI website contains a mobile  app for calculating P and K requirements and an online Nutrient Calculator.

We must acknowledge however that advances in technologies are matched by advances in  output.  We have seen agricultural production grow in line with our Food Wise 2025 targets. Our national herd has grown by 13.4% since 2011 and our dairy cow numbers have increased by 28% over the same period. Fertiliser sales have remained relatively stable over the same period with the exception of 2017 where we have seen an increase of 10% over the previous year. One of the biggest challenges facing the agriculture industry is meeting our water quality and Greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions targets. Based on Teagasc data using Tier 2 emissions profile, the share of emissions from inorganic fertiliser is 38%. This puts the role of fertiliser centre stage in reducing our emissions. Our focus must be on the sustainable use of fertilisers and increasing Nitrogen use efficiency. Fertiliser formulation and regulation will continue to be part of the solution.

There are still many challenges ahead for the Association.  Currently Teagasc data shows that only 11% of Ireland’s soils are at optimum fertility levels (phosphorus, potassium and pH) to make the most efficient use of fertiliser. This is a problem from an agronomic as well as environmental point of view. It is indeed disappointing that over 63% of our soils are sub optimal for pH and only 25% are  optimal for  P & K.  

Fertilisers can have an impact on water quality. We now have a new Statutory Instrument, SI 605 of 2017 European Union -Good Agricultural practice for the protection of waters, which gives effect to Irelands 4th Nitrates Action Programme.  Critically, the Nitrates derogation for farmers with stocking rates over 170kgs organic Nitrogen has been agreed also.  To comply with this legislation it is important that water quality is protected so that we are best placed at the next review of Nitrates legislation.

Having said that, I particularly welcome the Association’s theme for 2018 which is “Sustainability through efficient use of fertiliser”. This will bring a focus on increasing food production while protecting the environment. Environmental sustainability must remain at the heart of agri-food policy. Food Wise 2025 states that – “environmental protection and economic competitiveness are equal and complimentary”. Food markets are demanding sustainability in our food production. Nutrient off-takes from increased production will have to be replaced using the right source of nutrients, used at the right rates, at the correct time and in the right place. The activities of the Association will contribute to this through what  is a busy schedule of events planned for 2018.

I would like, here today, to acknowledge the work of the current members of the Council of the Association and PJ Brown as president in putting this event together.

I would like to acknowledge Jeremiah Murphy, current Secretary and also past President of the Association as the longest serving Council member. Jeremiah produced the first “Code of Good Practice” in 1991 as a response to declining water quality. And finally I would like to wish the Incoming president, Peter Ging all the best in his new role and a busy programme of events planned for 2018.