A guide to navigating fertiliser rules

Understanding and navigating the fertiliser regulations in the UK and Republic of Ireland is crucial for staying compliant, maximising crop yields, and maintaining environmental sustainability.

Differing from the UK, the Republic of Ireland adheres to EU directives, but also has specific national regulations regarding fertiliser application.

This blog breaks down the key aspects of UK and Irish fertiliser rules and how to apply them on your farm.

1. Nitrate Vulnerable Zones

Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) were introduced to manage and protect water quality across Europe under the EU Nitrates Directive. The purpose of NVZs is to prevent nitrates from agricultural sources entering and polluting watercourses.

If your farm is located within an NVZ, you will have specific rules to follow. You can find out if your farm is in an NVZ by entering your postcode into the Environment Agency’s mapping tool.

The specific rules include:

  • Field capacity: In NVZs, you must not apply more organic manure than the field’s crop requirement (which can be calculated by your agronomist or having your soil tested), nor exceed a maximum of 250 kg of nitrogen/hectare/year from this source.
  • Farm limit: On a whole-farm basis, you should not apply more than 170 kg of nitrogen/hectare/year.

Further information about NVZs can be found Government website.

2. Fertiliser storage

Distance from watercourses: The recommended minimum distance for storing fertiliser is 10 metres from all watercourses which provides a buffer zone to prevent fertiliser, which may contain nitrates and phosphates, from contaminating water sources through runoff.

These substances can lead to eutrophication, a process that increases the growth of algae and can harm aquatic life.

Planting grass or other vegetation around the storage area can help absorb potential run-off and provide an additional layer of protection for watercourses.

Spill kits: Keep a well-maintained and accessible spill kit near the fertiliser storage area, with tools like absorbent materials and barriers.

Train your staff on the correct usage for quick response to accidental spills and ensure proper disposal of used materials to prevent contamination.

Implementing these practices helps in safeguarding watercourses from potential fertiliser pollution and ensures that staff are prepared to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a spill, protecting both the environment and human health.

For further information on how to store fertiliser, please visit our storage information blog.

3. Planning and recording

Keeping annual detailed records is not just good practice – it’s a requirement set by Defra.

As a minimum, you should be recording the following:

  • Risk maps: Create a map showing field areas at risk from run-off and flooding.
  • Soil testing: Regularly test your soil to determine its nutrient needs. This can help optimise fertiliser application and reduce wastage.

In Ireland, Teagasc plays a pivotal role in advising farmers on sustainable farming practices, including soil testing whereby farmers are encouraged to regularly test their soils to determine nutrient requirements.

  • Usage logs: Track each fertiliser type, quantity, and field where it was applied. Include dates and weather conditions, as wet or stormy weather can influence runoff risks.

4. Organic manures

These include:

  • Manure analysis: Regularly test your organic manures for nutrient content. This helps prevent excess application, as rates are based on the unique nutrient content rather than standardised figures.
  • Buffer zones: When spreading near watercourses, maintain a 10-metre buffer zone
  • Closed periods: These are periods, depending on the type of crop and soil type, during which you must not spread certain types of organic manures, especially within an NVZ.

Closed periods:

On grasslandOn tillage land
Sandy or shallow soils1 September – 31 December1 August – 31 December
All other soils15 October – 31 January1 October – 31 January

Further information is available on the Government website.

5. Farmyard run-Off

In addition to field run-off, it is important to help prevent farmyard run-off from the likes of: manure, silage effluent, soil sediment, stored fertiliser, pesticides and metals into water sources by:

  • Regular maintenance: Keep your farm clean and repair any infrastructure that might lead to leaks. Ensure that clean water running off roofs is diverted away from manure storage areas.
  • Install oil interceptors: These devices can catch potential contaminants before they mix with rainwater and enter the environment.
  • Consider investing in a washdown and filling area: A bunded area for washing down and filling sprayers can help capture spillages and contaminated washings. These can be treated with a biobed or biofilter to make them safe for re-use.

Specific rules for Ireland

The Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive has implemented River Basin Management Plans to protect its extensive water resources. These include:

  • Assessment of agricultural practices: Determining the impact of fertiliser application on water quality.
  • Recommendations: Offering guidelines on best practices to reduce nutrient pollution. Further information can be found on the European Commission website.

The CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) Greening Measures in Ireland

In line with EU directives, Ireland has set measures under the CAP’s greening component, affecting fertiliser application by:

  • Encouraging crop diversification and maintenance of permanent grassland.
  • Incentivising farming practices beneficial for the environment and climate.

Further information on EU sustainable land use (greening), can be found on the European Commission website.


While navigating fertiliser rules can initially seem overwhelming, with careful planning and record-keeping, it becomes a manageable task.

Embracing these rules not only ensures compliance but also promotes sustainable farming – benefiting both your farm and the environment.

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