The Irish Co-operative Organization Society (ICOS) has said that it is “bitterly disappointed” at the European Commission’s decision on Ireland’s nitrates derogation.
The representative body for the co-operative sector was commenting after Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue confirmed yesterday (Wednesday, September 6) that the commission has refused to revisit the terms of the derogation.
This means that some areas of the country will see the derogation reduced from 250kg of organic nitrogen (N) per hectare to 220kg N/ha.
The current derogation is due to expire on January 1, 2026 but the derogation limit is also due to reduce to 220kg N/ha on January 1, 2024 in some areas.
“It is bitterly disappointing that the European Commission appears unwilling to reopen the decision to reduce Ireland’s maximum stocking rate to 220kg/N/ha,” Niall Matthews, ICOS Dairy Committee chair, said.
“It is very unfortunate that the commission are not willing to give the range of new measures designed to improve water quality under Ireland’s current derogation the time to be implemented and their impact on water quality assessed.
“The decision will undermine the efficiency of Ireland’s grass-based production model and will have significant consequences for the land market, for the dairy sector, and also for the wider livestock and tillage sectors,” he added.
“We need to ensure the derogation is protected in the medium to long term.
“Even at this juncture, we strongly encourage the European Commission to visit Ireland to gain a full appreciation of the economic and social implications of the decision to reduce the maximum stocking rate to 220kg/N/ha,” he said.
“The commission needs to learn directly from stakeholders of the deep commitment by Irish farmers to improving water quality and environmental performance and the range of actions and initiatives being adopted by the sector in this respect,” Matthews said.
Meanwhile, an independent TD has said that the EU Commission has taken “the nuclear option on nitrates” and the fallout for Ireland will be “severe”.
“This is a body blow to Irish farming that will achieve absolutely nothing except to further destabilize various agri-sectors and lead to increased anxiety among our farmers,” Carol Nolan said.
The Laois-Offaly TD raised the issue with the Minister McConalogue in the Dáil prior to the summer recess.
The minister confirmed there was a high probability that Ireland’s ability to obtain a nitrates derogation from the EU for 2025 would not be successful if Irish farmers do not move quickly to improve water quality levels.
“The reality now is that many farmers will be marched involuntarily into herd reduction and a considerable scaling back of their farm operations.
“Indeed, I cannot help but think that perhaps this was the real agenda all along despite the minister’s assurances that he made a strong case to the commission,” Deputy Nolan said.