Q. What happens in January?

A. From 1 January, the new upper limit for stocking rate on farms within the 220kg organic N/ha area kicks in.

This means that the maximum stocking rate for farmers in a derogation decreases from 250kg organic N/ha to 220kg N/ha.

Q. I’m currently at 230kg N/ha, do I need to be at 220kg N/ha by January?

A. No, the figures are based on the average amount of organic nitrogen produced over the year. So if a farm is over 220kg N/ha at the start of the year, they must be under 220kg N/ha for another part of the year so that the average is not greater than 220kg N/ha.

Q. Do I need to cull pregnant cows?

A. This is a choice for each individual farmer. The market for pregnant dairy stock has crashed as a result of the changes to the derogation so slaughter is seen by many as being the only option. Early culling will be seen by many as more preferential to delayed culling until after calving.

For example, a dairy farm in the top band with an average of 100 cows on 100ac is deemed to produce 265kg N/ha.

It needs to reduce to 83 cows in order to comply with 220kg N/ha. If the farmer decided to keep the 100 cows currently on the farm until all cows are calved at the end of April, then they can only keep an average of 75 cows for the rest of the year, culling eight extra cows.

Q. But the Minister said exporting slurry will be the first choice option, not culling cows?

A. There are four key elements to slurry – nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and organic matter. Exporting slurry can reduce nitrogen, but it will also reduce the other essential nutrients that most farms require at greater, not reduced, rates.

Exporting slurry to comply with nitrates will be very costly for farmers if these nutrients need to be replaced by chemical fertilisers.

Finding farmers to accept slurry is also challenging and being made more difficult. The Department of Agriculture should explain why it is incentivising exporting slurry.

Q. What changes are coming down the line for calves?

A. As it stands, each animal less than one year of age is deemed to produce 24kg N/year or 2kg N/month. However, that is not linear as Teagasc research has shown that a young calf produces a lot less than 2kg N/month and an older calf produces a lot more than 2kg N/month.

The proposal is to assign different excretion rates depending on age in months up to two years of age.

This will have a very small overall impact but it may help farmers on the fringes of exceeding 220kg N/ha and it won’t penalise farmers for rearing calves for longer.

Q. What happens next?

A. A new public consultation is set to commence shortly where a raft of new measures will be put forward by the Government.

A reduction in the maximum application rate of chemical nitrogen from 225kg N/ha to 200kg N/ha is mooted along with new limits on grazing platform stocking rates.

These new measures will be in place until the end of 2025 when the Nitrates Action Programme and the derogation will be reviewed again.

Hundreds more farmers in Cork, Wexford and Waterford who are currently at 250kg N/ha will likely be at 220kg N/ha by 2025 as part of the review.