A fertiliser database loophole anticipated by merchants could be easily closed if fertiliser merchants and co-ops checked farmers’ herd numbers to make sure that those claiming to be farming in Northern Ireland have a herd number that backs them up, Jackie Cahill TD told the Irish Farmers Journal.

However, there are still areas of the fertiliser database legislation which could be vulnerable to abuse by those seeking to source fertiliser without the Department of Agriculture knowing, as is set to become law from January 2023.

Merchants had previously warned the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture that if a farmer from the Republic of Ireland told a merchant or co-op that he had crossed the border from the North, he would not need to give information that would link the fertiliser to his holding with the Department.

Cahill, who chairs the cross-party committee, stated that farmers from the North could have to prove they hold a northern herd number from January when buying fertiliser south of the border.

“It is easy enough to close that gap,” he said in response to an Irish Farmers Journal question.

“I think product coming across from the North that, if a farmer was of the mood, wouldn’t have to record on the register, that is a far greater difficulty for exact recording of fertiliser that is used.

“It is a problem now with different issues and regulations. There are different regulations to the south of the border than to the North. The same applies to medicines.”

Changes still possible

Farmers who are found by authorities to have not recorded such movements will be liable for hefty fines from January.

Committee chair Cahill acknowledged that elements of the bill which is to set up both the fertiliser database and a separate register of all veterinary medicines sold in the State could be changed before the law is passed.

“People are most definitely entitled to put down amendments to this and we will have to see what view the minister takes on our report, our recommendations.”

He pointed out that both registers’ farmer-facing fronts could take the form of a smartphone app linked to the Department’s system.

“Every farmer won’t be adept at using these apps but I would hope that the vast majority of farmers would use it,” he said.

“Hopefully, every farmer would have someone who would be able to do it on an app.”