The ongoing ability of farmers to purchase fertiliser outside of the state is "an enormous black hole" in current plans for a fertiliser register, ICOS has warned.
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Representatives of ICOS told the Oireachtas joint committee on agriculture, food and the marine last week that while there have been and continue to be “technical concerns regarding software systems and other practical matters”, the “most substantive issue with the current proposal for a register is the acknowledgement by the Department that the register will only apply to purchases of fertiliser made within the state”.
The committee began its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Veterinary Medicinal Products, Medicated Feed and Fertilisers Regulation Bill 2022.
The bill provides for the making of regulations on the retailing of veterinary medicinal products, for the introduction of a National Veterinary Prescription System, to insert new registration requirements into previous law to enable the Minister for Agriculture to capture and process information on the manufacture, import, sale, supply and use of fertiliser in the state, and to provide for the introduction of a National Fertiliser Database.
ICOS representatives have warned of a “dysfunctional” prescribing regime, “substantial” job losses, and concerns relating to cross-border sales of fertiliser as a result of this bill. John Carroll of ICOS told the committee that the industry needs a “seamless system which will capture all the use of fertiliser within the state”.
ICOS said it supports the development of a register, however, the “current anomaly with respect to Northern Ireland is of great concern and must be addressed”.
“It would be extraordinarily naive to assume, given examples from other products such as silage plastic and smoky coal, that similar loopholes will not be taken advantage of in this scenario,” Mr Carroll told the committee.
“We acknowledge the efforts of the department to seek an all-island approach and we appreciate the sensitivities at play. However, the lack of any clear timelines for a solution is very worrying.” Mr Carroll said ICOS members, co-ops, as well as stakeholders in the fertiliser supply chain are working with the Department of Agriculture to support the development of a “fit-for-purpose” register.
This process has not concluded, he said, “especially the full development of the IT system”.
“It is vital that the current IT systems in each co-op will work seamlessly with the department’s new register to ensure there is no unnecessary bureaucracy or inefficiency at co-op level when it comes to selling fertiliser,” Mr Carroll added.
“There needs to be a significant communications campaign to inform farmers of what will be needed to ensure compliance with the new register, including the recording of closing and opening stocks for each year.
“Farmers who are not proficient in IT skills will need support in this regard.” Mr Carroll said that the North is a “gaping hole”, and “even if we cannot get one register for Ireland, if there was another register in the North, one could talk to the other”.
“The vast majority of farmers want to do the right thing on this. I believe they will stay within the limits of nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and lime,” he added.
“The problem is that any of them who want to go outside this will find a way.” Ray Doyle said that the situation is “exactly the same with veterinary medicines, we are looking for parity on the island of Ireland”.