The head of Teagasc’s animal and grassland research programme has warned that although the complete loss of the nitrates derogation would have obvious implications for the dairy sector, the drystock farmers would also see land flowing into dairying.

Dr Laurence Shalloo stated that Ireland’s grass-based production system has not been understood across Europe, reiterating Teagasc's findings that weather extremes can override stocking rates in their impact on water quality trends.

He spoke to farmers attending the Irish Farmers Journal Dairy Day on Thursday.

“We’re not highly stocked in this country, just to be clear. Our total nitrogen surplus is about 50kg/ha across the country, so we are not highly stocked,” Shallo explained.

“If you look at profitability, dairying is by a countrymile the most profitable enterprise, so you [would] see more than likely a flow of land into dairy.”

The question from the floor also asked Shalloo if dairy systems would be likely to change in the absence of any derogation from 170kg N/ha.

“But the question is coming from ‘would we see a system change?’ and I’d argue that it is the exact opposite actually,” the researcher said.

“Because if we are down to that level, the only tool we have is to minimise cost per unit of output and if we do that, that’s down to a very, very low input system.

“It’s very difficult to even think about because of the damage it does to everyone’s industry.”

Derogation map

On the derogation cut implementation map published by the Department of Agriculture outlining which areas are dropping to 220kg N/ha next year, Shalloo said he didn’t think he could “bet” on 220kg zones’ borders remaining the same into 2025.

He questioned how further areas could face the stocking rate cut when they met the four conditions of European Commission’s derogation stocking rates review.

“I don’t think you can bet on it in the future, which is a bit of a concern because I suppose the reason for the change this year is based on those four criteria,” he continued.

“Does that mean that there is a move away from those criteria? It’s not clear.”

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