The Irish government must “step in and support farmers” through a number of short, medium and long term mechanisms following the decision by the European Commission not to extend the nitrates derogation, according to the MEP Billy Kelleher.

The Fianna Fáil MEP said today (Sunday, September 10) that the commission’s decision will “cause significant upheaval and financial challenges for Irish agriculture”.

“The net result of the loss of the derogation will be a scramble for additional land by dairy farmers who can afford to lease land.

“This will mean dairy farmers competing with tillage farmers and tillage farmers competing with beef and sheep farmers for a limited amount of land,” he warned.

He has called for the government to introduce a mechanism as part of Budget 2024 that would make the short-term leasing of land less expensive.

The MEP added: “In the medium term, we need to be more creative in how we deal with nitrogen emissions by our dairy herd.

“We need greater slurry storage capacity installed across all our farms, and mechanisms by which our dairy farmers can work with their neighbouring non-dairy farms to spread their slurry in a safe and sustainable way.”

But he is also calling on the government to put a long term plan in place to deal with organic slurry and Kelleher believes that one viable options is anaerobic digestion (AD).

However he said todate there has been a lack of planning and support for AD by what he described as “certain elements of the government”. 

Kelleher proposals

In the government’s Climate Action Plan 2023 it outlined the need to support the “transition to alternative land uses through diversification options”.

It highlighted that one of the options identified included “agri-centric biomethane production utilising the development of an anaerobic digestion sector”.

But Kelleher believes the Irish government has been too slow on that front.

“If we had invested correctly two to three years ago, we would have a number of large scale AD facilities up and running already.

“These facilities take in slurry, and other products, and convert them into biogas and organic digestate. The entire sector – co-ops, farm organisations, farmers and the government must get on board with this proven technology,” he said.

Now Kelleher plans to put forward his proposals at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party “think In” tomorrow (Monday, September 11).

“I will be requesting investment in a national anaerobic digester program and Budget 2024 support.

“The Irish dairy industry is an integral part of our agri-food sector, and through our dairy farms in regional Ireland and our network of co-ops, they are the lifeblood of hundreds of communities. We must support them,” he added.