Stable water quality will not be sufficient to retain the derogation in catchments that fail to meet the standards as set out in the Water Framework Directive, the Irish Farmers Journal understands.

It is understood that commitments made by European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius, when he visited Ireland in November around stable water quality, have since been clarified by Commission officials. This directive states that all water bodies should be in good chemical and ecological status by 2027.

Questions around the retention of the nitrates derogation are said to have dominated discussions at Teagasc in-service training for advisers this week.

According to sources at the meetings, Teagasc dairy advisers were told not to discuss the possibility of Ireland losing the derogation in public and not to assume a stocking rate of 170kg N/ha when doing business plans for farmer clients, even if requested to do so by lending institutions.

This diktat followed an online meeting on water quality with advisers from all over the country and senior Teagasc water quality experts, David Wall and Eddie Burgess.

The possibility of Ireland’s derogation reducing to 170kg N/ha in a tiered step-down by 2029 was discussed at this meeting.

Similar derogation

A similar derogation step-down was given to the Netherlands at its last nitrates derogation review with the European Commission, meaning the Netherlands will have no derogation by 2026.

However, it is understood that these views were given in a personal capacity and based purely on current indications which are subject to change.

Losing the derogation would have massive implications for Ireland’s dairy industry, with Tirlán CEO Jim Bergin recently describing such an outcome as being “catastrophic”.