Farmers need to be informed of all changes to the new nitrates derogation conditions for Ireland so they can plan for the future, one senator has argued.

Tim Lombard, who is dairy farming in Co. Cork, told Agriland that farmers “need to find out now what other information is out there”.

The European Commission’s implementing decision allowing for an extension of the nitrates derogation here, published in April, says that dairy farmers in some areas may see the derogation cut from 250kg of organic nitrogen (N) per hectare to 220kg of N per hectare.

However, according to Lombard, this aspect of the commission’s decision was not communicated to farmers in Ireland at the time.

The commission’s decision to allow nitrates derogations in Ireland until 2025 came with a condition that, by June 30, 2023, the competent authority here submits a review of water conditions for the year 2022.

The review will contain the results of monitoring of nitrates concentrations of groundwater and surface waters.

It must also contain maps of areas that drain into water where monitoring shows the average value of nitrate concentration is above 50mg/L, or tends of nitrate concentration are increasing.

These areas will be classed as polluted or at risk of pollution.

From January 1, 2024, farms located in these areas will see the maximum amount of manure that can be applied under the derogation cut to 220kg N/ha.

“This document was in the nitrates derogation pack, and it’s a very, very major change for the agricultural community. So what we need is to find out now what other information is out there,” Lombard argued.

“Is there more information on this derogation we’re not aware of? Because farmers need to plan for the future and just giving them information bit by bit isn’t appropriate.”

He added: “We’re a multi-billion euro industry, we’re a major driver of the food industry, and I don’t think we’ve been treated appropriately in the last few weeks by the [Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine] regarding the information that has been given.”

The senator drew parallels with the ban on ploughing grassland on derogation farms after May. In that case too, Lombard argued, there was insufficient communication from the department on the change.

“This derogation will potentially have a huge impact on output. Milk has dipped in the last few months regarding what could be the output for the year,” he said.

Lombard concluded: “By having these regulations come into place, we are really cutting the output and its going to effect the manufacturing side of the industry as well.”