On Friday, the Department of Agriculture published the report it sent to the European Commission on water quality trends.
The document was requested by the European Commission as part of the mid-term review of Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme.
The document was prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and it set out to examine four criteria posed by the Commission on water quality trends.
It identified areas or catchments where one or more criteria was not met. The Commission had already stated when granting the derogation that where the criteria are not met the maximum stocking rate in the derogation should drop from 250kg to 220kg n per hectare.
It will be September before the Commission formally declares this position, but as it stands its position hasn’t changed.
So who does this affect? These rule changes affect all farmers stocked above 220kg N/ha organic stocking rate.
The Department of Agriculture issue organic nitrogen statements periodically throughout the year, but farmers can also work it out for themselves based on average cow numbers, the nitrogen band and what other stock are on the farm divided into all eligible hectares.
Essentially, only farmers in a derogation and operating above 220kg N/ha will be affected by this change.
Accurate figures on how many farmers are affected is not available, but previous analysis has shown that over 3,200 farmers are assumed to be stocked over 220kg N/ha.
These farmers would need to either reduce cow numbers by 50,000 cows or secure an additional 30,000 hectares of grassland.
This is likely to have a further significant increase in the demand for land from dairy farmers and will lead to higher prices being paid.
Importantly, Teagasc analysis has shown that reducing the stocking rate from 250kg to 220kg will have a negligible impact on water quality.