75 submissions have been received in respect of the nitrates derogation review. Almost 7,000 intensively stocked farmers availed of the nitrates derogation in 2018 while derogation farmers made up 6% of bovine farmers, 11% of the land area and had 20% of the bovine livestock herd.

Meanwhile, there has been an expansion in land area covered by the derogation of almost 35% since 2014.

These were just some of the sentiments expressed by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed during Dáil proceedings earlier this week after he was asked by deputy Michael Moynihan what the current status of the review of the nitrates derogation was.

The minister said the derogation programme provided farmers with an opportunity to farm at higher stocking rates – above 170kg livestock manure nitrogen(N)/ha – subject to additional conditions designed to protect the environment.

The derogation is an important facility for more intensive farmers.

He continued: “In addition, a further 5,000 farmers with 13% of the national bovine herd farm above the 170 kg N/ha limit, but export slurry to comply with the limit rather than applying for a derogation.

“Recent EPA reports have highlighted deterioration in water quality and increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) and ammonia emissions. There are also significant issues around the decline of EU-protected habitats in Ireland.

“However, we know that there are opportunities to reduce the impact of these farms on the environment.”

Expansion and review

The minister went on to point out that, in light of continuing expansion of the dairy herd, increasing land area being farmed under derogation and the environmental pressures was considered opportune to review the conditions of the nitrates derogation.

Ireland’s current derogation concludes in 2021, and failing to address the environmental pressures mentioned would negatively impact on any negotiations to renew this important facility.

He continued: “As part of this review a public consultation was held with 75 submissions received. The nitrates expert group which is composed of officials from the EPA, Teagasc, Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and my department is currently considering these submissions.

“Recommendations for measures that will improve efficiencies and reduce the environmental footprint of these intensive farms will be submitted by the group within the coming months.”