EU Nitrate cuts don’t give farmers 'a chance to change'

Limits are being cut from 250kg to 220kg of organic nitrogen per hectare from next January
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

10.56 7 Sep 2023

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EU Nitrate cuts don’t give far...

EU Nitrate cuts don’t give farmers 'a chance to change'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

10.56 7 Sep 2023

Share this article

Cuts to Ireland's nitrates derogation will not give farmers enough time to make necessary changes, according to Ireland's dairy farmers association.

Yesterday, the European Commission moved to tighten organic nitrate restrictions on thousands of Irish beef and dairy farmers.

European regulations aimed at reducing water pollution mean that farmers can only produce 170kg of organic nitrogen per hectare of farmland.


Ireland currently has a derogation agreement that means some farmers have been permitted to produce 250kg.

Cows at a dairy farm in 2015. Image: Dan Sherwood/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The Commission yesterday said that derogation would fall to 220kg from January 1st - leaving farmers with three options - reduce the herd, buy more land or find someone to take slurry off them.

It means a farmer must not exceed two dairy cows per hectare without a 250kg derogation, but can farm at almost three cows per hectare if approved for a derogation.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association President Pat McCormack told Newstalk Breakfast the Government has failed to protect small farmers.

"While it will impact the large-scale dairy farm, it's going to impact the family model in particular," he said.

"Intensive dairy, and in particular in the west Cork region, has proven that intensive dairy and excellent water quality can go hand in hand."

'Denying us the opportunity for change'

Mr McCormack said the sector has started using low-emission slurry spreaders, among other measures.

"All the scientists tell us that a change in practice on farms requires a 20 to 30-month period for results to be delivered from a water quality perspective," he said.

"What the Government are definitely doing here, and the EU, [are] denying us that opportunity for a change in practice to deliver meaningful results."

Mr McCormack said we need to give the "huge changes" put in place by farmers to bear fruit.

"We're going on 2022 and 2021 water quality results, where there was no period of time for the change in implementation of practice on farms to deliver meaningful results."

'Something's got to give'

Meanwhile, An Taisce Head of Advocacy Dr Elaine McGoff told the show something has to change to protect Ireland’s waterways.

"We've seen year-on-year increase in agricultural water pollution for the last decade," she said.

"Approximately half of our rivers and lakes are now polluted, and two-thirds of our estuaries.

"It's gotten to the point where the EPA are referring to 'alarming declines' in water quality in our estuaries.

"It's dairy intensification which is primarily driving that in the south and south-east.

"At a certain point, something's got to give."

Dairy cows feeding at a dairy feed bunk in March 2005. Dairy cows feeding at a dairy feed bunk in March 2005. Picture by: Steve Woit/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

Dr McGoff she said appreciates farmers have been making changes.

"We have some water bodies in Ireland where there's 50% too much nitrogen going into the water - like the Slaney and the Barrow," she said.

"It's down to the sheer number of animals.

"The measures farmers are putting in place, while welcome, they're small-scale and often localised.

"They're not going to achieve the drastic reduction in pollution that we need to see in these really impacted water bodies," she added.

Listen back here:

Man image: File photo of cows in a field. Image: Farlap / Alamy Stock Photo

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An Taisce Dr Elaine McGoff Farmers Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association Newstalk Breakfast Nitrate Derogation Limits Water Quality

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