The European Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius believed that postponing a reduction in Ireland’s nitrates derogation would have resulted in further deterioration in water quality.

Last week, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said that the EU Commission confirmed there is “no prospect” of re-opening the current commission decision on Ireland’s nitrates derogation.

Ireland’s current derogation is due to expire on January 1, 2026, and the limit is due to reduce to 220kg organic nitrogen per hectare (N/ha) on January 1, 2024 in certain areas, because the latest water quality results have not shown sufficient improvement.

Minister McConalogue said he made “a strong case” during a video call with Commissioner Sinkevicius for the retention of Ireland’s 250kg/ha derogation until the next review.

This was based on “Ireland’s unique, grass based agricultural system; the measures farmers had already taken to improve water quality; and the need for additional time to see the results of these measures in our water quality indicators”.

Nitrates derogation

A spokesperson for the EU Commission told Agriland that Commissioner Sinkevicius “recognised and welcomed the efforts that both the Irish authorities and Irish farmers are making to reverse negative trends on water quality and meet the requirements of the nitrates directive”.

“It was in light of these efforts that the commission accepted to grant a derogation to the farmers for another four years in 2022.

“In granting this derogation, the commission has already shown considerable flexibility.

“However, any request to revise the decision just over one year after its adoption would be premature as the results are not there yet, namely, there is no major improvement in water quality and postponing the reduction of the derogated amount would have a further negative impact on water quality,” they said.

The spokesperson added that Commissioner Sinkevicius understood the “difficult situation of Irish farmers, including the dairy sector”.

“The commissioner and minister discussed the margin of flexibility in the implementation of the decision and they agreed to work and coordinate between the commission and Irish authorities to explore how Ireland can implement the decision in the most balanced way.

“Also, some instruments could be put in place to buffer the potential economic impacts and difficulties of the more vulnerable farmers,” the spokesperson said.