Manner of revealing nitrates change ‘unacceptable’

The decision of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to inform farmers of changes in nitrates regulations via a Dáil parliamentary question has been described as “downright disrespectful and unacceptable”.

This is the view of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) which said that the move “will undermine trust in the communications and sincerity on this issue”.

The farming organisation was referring to a parliamentary question from Kerry TD Brendan Griffin to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue about nitrates changes. In his response, the minister said that the most accurate nitrogen excretion figure for the average dairy cow has been found to be 4kg more per year than previously measured, from 85kg to 89kg per year.

Commenting on the matter, Denis Drennan, ICMSA Farm and Rural Affairs Committee chairman, said:

For farmers to learn – by this means – that they have been served with three months’ notice whereby many of them will have to reduce cow numbers, increase land or find an alternative approach to address nitrates is simply unfair and just downright disrespectful.

“The period of three months is simply too short and at this stage we’re calling on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine to delay this and instead look at the kind of timeframe needed for affected farmers to adjust their production patterns to meet the new requirements – particularly to the move from 85kgs of N to 89kgs of N per dairy cow,” he said.

Noting the contrast between the breeding decisions made by farmers and involving a three-year cycle from conception to milking cow and the department’s “off-hand revealing” of the three-month notice, Drennan asked for some understanding of the realities around lead-in timeframes and actual farming timetables.

“Farmers want to and will be part of the solution.

We’re completely on-side; but the regulators have to respect the realities of farming and breeding – and that does mean reasonable timeframe to make the necessary adjustments.

“Even more importantly [that means to] maintain proper direct communication with farmers and their organisations that means we don’t have to learn about things affecting our livelihoods in this second-hand and disrespectful way,” the chairman said.

Drennan concluded by asking the minister to recognise reality and defer the implementation of these decisions until farmers can adjust existing arrangements accordingly.