Last Tuesday’s nitrates meeting in Cavan heard about the massive impact the changes to the derogation and nitrates action programme will have on all farmers in the region. There is a perception that the rules only affect large dairy farmers in the south and east, but this is not the case.

Firstly, the combination of banding and the lowering of the upper stocking rate limit for derogation farmers from 250kg to 220kg means that about half of all derogation farmers are going to need extra land if they are to retain existing cow numbers.

Farmers in the north and west are as likely to be restricted as those in the south and east because phosphorus is a major cause of water pollution there.

Tadhg Buckley from the IFA put the extra land needed to comply with the new rules at half the size of county Louth. Let’s face it, that amount of land just isn’t available no matter how much it’s making per acre. A reduction in the dairy herd is inevitable as a result of this condition.

Furthermore, Ted Massey from the Department of Agriculture admitted that it was likely a politically motivated decision from Europe to reduce the derogation, and that it’ll have no benefit for water quality – improvements will come from the other measures.

Coping mechanisms were discussed at the Irish Grassland Association conference last week.

The final Irish Farmers Journal nitrates meeting is on Thursday night, 26 January in Killeshin Hotel, Portlaoise at 7:30pm.


Grass growth rates are between 6-10kg per day, but most farmers have noticed fields greening up as the weather has turned milder. Freshly calved cows will start to move out to grass on the drier farms over the next week or so.

It’s the last chance to prepare for turnout before things get really busy. Walk the whole farm to check and repair any broken wires, posts and gap handles. Check that there’s good current in all fields.

Have reels and pigtails ready to go and have enough of them. The best grassland farmers will have 10 or 12 reels and will have multiple breaks set up in paddocks for a day or so ahead, and more in reserve in case the plans change and cows have to go somewhere else.

They’re expensive for what they are, but good quality geared reels are a good investment.


From next Monday, all farmers in counties zoned A and B can spread chemical fertiliser.

Farmers in Northern Ireland have to wait until next Wednesday, while farmers in Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan have to wait until 15 February before they are permitted to spread chemical fertiliser. When to spread is farm specific.

If you’re not going to have at least half the farm grazed by mid-March, then I wouldn’t be in any rush to go spreading until March.

For farmers that will get out grazing in February and early March, spreading 23 units/acre of nitrogen on dry fields with good grass varieties and that won’t get slurry gives a good economic response.

The first step is to ensure there is nitrogen in the yard ready for spreading when the conditions allow. Some farmers are planning to spread next week before they get too busy calving.