Irish Nitrogen Derogation Issue

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There is concern within the Irish dairy industry as the EU announced a cut on Ireland’s derogation on application of nitrogen per hectare from 250kg to 220kg. This may sound like a bit of a mouthful so we’ll translate to simple layman terms. Some Irish farmers currently qualify for the nitrogen derogation permit granted by the EU which basically means they are able to farm at higher stocking rates. Without a derogation a farmer is only permitted to use 170kg of nitrogen per hectare but if they have the derogation they are permitted to use 250kg. This translates into a farmer without derogation being allowed no more than 2 cows per hectare but if they have the derogation they can have up to 3 cows per hectare. Naturally this permission for the extra derogation makes a huge difference to each individual farmer’s milk production capabilities. Unfortunately, the EU has now announced a cut to this extra derogation from 250kg to 220kg which will have a potential big impact on Ireland’s milk output. Ireland’s water quality in rivers has been deemed unsatisfactory by the EU and despite attempted political intervention from big hitters such as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue there has been no joy in getting this decision reviewed.

Up to 3,000 Irish farmers could be impacted by this cut. Climate Minister and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has stated his opinion that smaller measures attempting to improve water quality wouldn’t be enough and he doesn’t see the decision being reversed any time soon. The EU’s decision is final and the country’s dairy sector will need to adapt accordingly which could be a struggle. There are fears the forced reduction in cow numbers could lead to a mass sale of cows up to next Spring. Some experts have predicted up to 50,000 cows could be sold off in Ireland over the next 6 months which is a huge number. This of course may indeed be worst case scenario and it may not turn out to be that high of a figure but it is clear there will be a significant sale of dairy cows. The constant spectre of further cuts on cow herd numbers to meet Ireland’s ambitious sustainability targets serves as a double whammy for worried farmers throughout the country. The dairy industry is the lifeblood of rural Ireland and there are worries of the long-term future of many farmers due to the uncertainty posed by sustainability measures. Ireland is a key exporter to the UK and many countries across the world so the hope is the cut to cow herds doesn’t put any major pressure on milk availability but this can’t be guaranteed at the moment.

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