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The protest Irish Farmers' Association on Twitter
nitrates derogation

Farmer groups picket Agriculture Minister's meeting following nitrates cut

The decision to cut Ireland’s nitrates derogation limit arises out of the harm nitrates can cause water due to nutrient pollution.

THE COUNTRY’S LARGEST farmers organisation has picketed a meeting held by the Agriculture Minister this morning, following a cut in Ireland’s nitrates derogation limit.

Minister Charlie McConalogue revealed yesterday that the EU Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius had confirmed there was “no prospect” of re-opening the current Commission decision on Ireland’s limits.

The cut will reduce the nitrates derogation limit from 250kg of organic nitrogen per hectare to 220kg per hectare. 

Farmer groups including the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) are warning that it could result in farms cutting livestock numbers or trying to access more land.

The cut arises out of the harm nitrates can cause water due to nutrient pollution, with repeated reports from the Environmental Protection Agency demonstrating many of Ireland’s water bodies failing to show significant improvement in recent years.

The IFA announced the plans to hold the picket this morning and were joined by other pressure groups, including Macra na Feirme.

At present, a farmer must not exceed two dairy cows per hectare without a derogation but can farm at almost three cows per hectare if approved for a derogation.

Ireland’s current derogation is due to expire on 1 January 2026, and the derogation limit is due to reduce to 220kg per hectare on 1 January 2024 in certain areas, because the latest water quality results have not shown sufficient improvement, according to the Department of Agriculture.

McConalogue told reporters yesterday that he had made a “strong case” for retaining the current rate but said the commissioner “made it clear that Ireland is one of only three remaining member states with a derogation, while stressing that there is no prospect of re-visiting the current decision”.

Farm organisations have criticised the move and the IFA has now said it will will not attend a meeting for farm groups called by the Minister for Agriculture this morning.

The IFA decided to picket the final meeting of the Farmers’ Charter group which was due to take place in Portlaoise this morning, but which was moved to Dublin.

“Despite the cynical last-minute manoeuvre by the Minister to move the meeting to Dublin, we plan to picket this meeting,” IFA President Tim Cullinan said.

Cullinan said the minister wanted to hold a ‘discussion’ with farm organisations and ‘update’ them on the limits, but said the time for those talks “had passed and that it was time for the Minister to deal with the problems”.

“The statement by the Minister in relation to cuts in the Nitrates Derogation, following an online meeting with the EU Commissioner, has further angered farmers. It is a flawed decision and it must be revisited,” Cullinnan said. 

The decision was also criticised by president of Macra Elaine Houlihan who said it will have a “knock-on effect” on income.

Speaking this afternoon, Houlihan said that Macra does “not always agree with the other farming organisations” but that it refused to pass the IFA’s picket line.

“Unless rural Ireland stands together it has no future,” Houlihan said.

Earlier, Houlihan told Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio One that it will intensify competition for land, as larger farmers will likely have the means to access more land to cope witht he derogation limit while smaller farmers may not.

The Macra leader, whose group represents young farmers, criticised the minister’s decision to have a virtual meeting with the commissioner rather than an in person discussion.

Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard echoed this criticism of McConalogue holding a virtual meeting, adding that he has a “face-to-face meeting” with Sinkevičius this afternoon.

“I’m in Brussels this week with three other members of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine. We have a face-to-face meeting with Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius this afternoon where I will be outlining the impact of this decision in person,” said Lombard, who owns a farm in Cork.

“It was a real blow to hear that Minister McConalogue had a virtual meeting with the Commissioner ahead of the meeting with the Agricultural Committee today,” Lombard.

““We now need a thorough and complete assessment of the economic impact of this decision.”

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