The Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA) has accused the ministers with responsibility for the management and administration of the nitrates derogation of “showing scant regard” for derogation farmers.

IFA president Tim Cullinan said this afternoon (Friday, August 5) that farmers are “rightly furious” at the approach taken to the Nitrates Action Programme (NAP) review by Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien, and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue.

The extension to the nitrates derogation that was announced earlier this year came with a condition – understood to have been insisted upon by the European Commission – that derogation farmers in areas considered polluted or at risk of pollution could see the maximum allowable amount of nitrogen (N) cut from 250kg N/ha to 220kg N/ha from January 2024.

Earlier in the summer the government came under fire for not explicitly outlining the existence of this condition at the same time that the extension to the derogation was announced (although it was included in the official documents).

“The ministers have signed into law the possibility of a reduction in organic nitrogen…without any consultation. All the indications coming from the [Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine] is that this is being taken as a done deal,” Cullinan claimed.

He also pointed to other new restrictions arising from the revised NAP for this year, including increased soiled water storage requirements; shallow cultivation rules for tillage; and banding of excretion rates for dairy cows.

“These measures, along with others added in the last number of years, will all help protect water quality, but time is needed to see the results of these actions.”

The IFA president called for the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) to be expanded to give farmers guidance on how best to protect water quality on their farms; as well as further funding of slurry storage through the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS).

Regarding the new conditions to the nitrates derogation, IFA environmental chairperson Paul O’Brien argued that the manner in which information on the changes were communicated by the department “points to a complete lack of understanding of the consequences of any knee-jerk change in nitrates regulations”.

“Not only is the department giving in and changing the goalposts mid-season, we now have the farcical situation where they plan on giving derogation farmers three months’ notice that they may have to drop their stocking rates by over 10%.”

The government will notify the European Commission in September of next year of the areas where the cut in the derogation will apply from January 2024, based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This means that farmers above 220kg N/ha will have only between September next year and the following January to rectify the situation – by exporting slurry, acquiring land, or reducing cow numbers.

Cullinan called on the ministers and their officials to clarify what their position is on nitrates.

“Are they going to fight to ensure we retain our derogation at current levels that helps us maximise our grass-based efficiencies, or are they going to use nitrates as a back door to putting the brakes on some of our most productive livestock and dairy farmers in the country?” he concluded.