The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said that a ‘Sustainability Development Program’ should be implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to support farmers in environmental action.

The association said that this should be “central” to the department’s review of the nitrates derogation.

Joe Healy, IFA president, said that the nitrates review is a “real opportunity to support the sustainable development of a cohort of farmers who contribute over €900 million in agricultural output in every county in Ireland”.

The IFA is insisting that these farmers “must not be threatened with further regulations, legislation or changes to the derogation”.

“Instead, Government must come forward with a well-funded and robust Sustainability Development Programme (SDP) for the sector,” the association said in a statement.

According to Thomas Cooney, IFA environment chairperson, the following measures should be implemented:

  • Implementation of the Teagasc ‘Climate Roadmap’;
  • Increased funding and removal of VAT for low-emission slurry spreading equipment;
  • Supports for greater use of protected urea, lime, slurry additives and soil aeration technologies;
  • Support for anaerobic digestion and on-farm renewables;
  • Full recognition of the carbon sinks from forests, permanent pastures and hedgerows;
  • Greater use of organic manures on farms.

“Farmers are fully engaged in positive water, air and climate action, with farmers in derogation using resources such as phosphorous with increased efficiency,” said Cooney.

He added: “All of this action is contributing to falling emissions intensity in our livestock sector, strong demand for access to air quality improvement schemes…as well as climate, biodiversity and water improvement schemes.”

The IFA says it has “strongly rejected” proposals by the department to classify farms that are stocked at 1.5 dairy cows/ha as intensive, saying it is “an incorrect and deeply unfair perception of our family owned and operated, grass-based farms.”

This is at a time, the association argued, “of unprecedented and extraordinarily aggressive social media-driven scrutiny of farming and food production systems”.