Sales of artificial fertiliser for land use use have plummeted over the last two years, according to figures published by the Department of Agriculture.

Total sales were down 16% to June 2023 compared with the previous year, which itself had seen a fertiliser sales drop of 23%.

The reduction comes after growth in artificial fertiliser sales in the previous two years.

The figures show 909,000 tonnes of fertiliser was sold from October 2022 to June 2023, compared with 1.01 million tonnes in the same period the previous year, and 1.4m tonnes in the 2021/2022 period.

Fertiliser prices soared immediately after the start of the war in Ukraine, which did have a drag effect on sales.

Prices stabilised since then, however, but fertiliser sales have continued to decline.

Experts say the difference is mostly down to farmers taking a more sustainable approach to nutrient management amid pressure to reduce nutrient loss to waterways and reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a toxic greenhouse gas.

Mark Plunkett, a Training and Development Specialist with the Teagasc Signpost Programme, says it is good news.

"It is positive in terms of climate and one of the big drivers is the use of low emissions slurry spreading techniques. More clover has also been used on farms and more lime, which increases the nitrogen supply from the soil and requires less chemical fertiliser," he said.

The number of farmers farming organically has also doubled in the last year and those 4000 farmers use no artificial fertiliser at all on the 180,000 hectares of land they farm.

While the sales figures for fertiliser are substantially down, a minority of farmers may have carried over fertiliser they bought the previous year, so fertiliser usage compared to tonnage sales may vary slightly.

It is expected an exact picture of fertiliser sales and usage will be available from January next year, when data from the new National Fertiliser Database become available.

The Database went live this July to record fertiliser sales along the supply chain with a view to achieving better compliance with water quality and environmental ambitions, help Ireland meet commitments to the European Commission arising from the Nitrates Action Programme and to simplify farmer's reporting of fertiliser use under regulatory schemes and voluntary initiatives