The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) has claimed that policies pursued by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue will lead to herd reductions on dairy farms.

Pat McCormack, the association’s president, asserted that – thanks to a rule in the European Commission’s regulation earlier this year which extended the nitrates derogation in Ireland – many dairy farmers will have to reduce cow numbers and may end up out of business.

This rule would could see farmers under derogation in some areas limited to applying 220kg of nitrogen (N)/ha from 2024 – instead of the usual 250kg N/ha.

McCormack argued that this measure, while reducing cow numbers, would “have no positive impact on water quality and brings into question the commitment of this government to our crucial family farm sector”.

“While the government claims to support family farms and the leaders of the two main parties state that they do not support herd reduction, the reality is that family farms are now facing reductions,” he said.

The farm leader added: “Actions speak louder than words and the minister’s policy is going to hammer families, many of whom have been dairy farming for generations.”

McCormack cited the example of a dairy farmer with 40ha milking 112 cows at present.

He claimed that such a farmer would have to reduce cow numbers by 29 if that farm was impacted by the new rule from 2024.

“The reality is that these family farms will be forced out of business, and we’ll see an industrialisation of dairy farming unless it is changed,” the ICMSA president argued.

McCormack was speaking after a meeting with the minister, who he told: “There is an unacceptable policy bias against family dairy farms and the dairy sector in general.”

He maintains that there was no consultation with the ICMSA on the matter of reducing the nitrates derogation down to 220kg N/ha, adding that the “vagueness” in the commission’s rule will also impact the wider dairy sector in terms of milk supply.

The meeting between the ICMSA and the minister also addressed the issue of the sectoral emissions targets under the Climate Action Plan.

On this, McCormack argued that the emissions reduction target for agriculture should be no higher than 22% – the lowest possible reduction rate possible under the range that has already been confirmed (22% to 30%) – and that necessary supports should be put in place to achieve that reduction.

The ICMSA president also called on the minister to review the Fodder Support Scheme to allow dairy farmers entry, claiming not to do so would be “clear bias”.