There was a drop in the number of water quality inspections carried out under cross-compliance by the Department of Agriculture in 2020 due to COVID-19.

The Department availed of a derogation last year which allowed it to carry out a reduced number of inspections under EU law due to the pandemic.

Last year, it carried out 733 full cross-compliance inspections on farms, down from 1,422 in 2019. Of the 733 full cross-compliance inspections, 89 resulted in farmers being hit with a financial penalty under SMR 1 – the protection of water against pollution caused by nitrates.

Minor cross-compliance issues were found on 32 farms, with no penalty applied.

The Department also carries out nitrates inspections on behalf of local authorities.

Last year, 106 were carried out, down from 1,084 in 2019. Of these, 24 farmers had a penalty applied to their Basic Payment Scheme due to breaches of cross-compliance, while 12 had a minor compliance issue and had no penalty applied.

Breaches of water quality regulations was the second most common non-complinace across all cross compliance inspections in 2020.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that water quality inspections have ramped up this year, with farmers facing a tighter regime.