Government environmental policy will lead to a “compulsory destocking” of the cattle herd, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) insists.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack said that despite Government ministers claiming herd cuts aren’t being sought, the amended Nitrates Regulations could see some dairy herds forced to reduce by up to 25%, wiping out family farms and the rural economy.

He described how through the amended regulations, a 30ha dairy farm with 84 cows could have to reduce numbers to 62 head by 2024 due to cow banding and with the potential for the maximum nitrogen level per hectare to fall from 250kg to 220kg.

Slamming local and national politicians for being “completely unaware” of the “enormous effects” of these regulations, which he said were “smuggled past without any worthwhile consultation”, McCormack called on Government to “go back to the EU and renegotiate the Nitrates Derogation”.

The Tipperary farmer claimed Government has used a “slippery tactic of distraction” on farmers with the 25% emissions ceiling, while meanwhile, the Nitrates Derogation is already going to “take out” family farms.

‘Already begun’

The ICMSA president contradicted recent statements by ministers who continue to maintain that compulsory destocking of family farms need not happen and is not being sought.

He said that, in reality, such compulsory destocking has already begun and just because it is happening via the amended Nitrates Regulations “does not make it any less of a harmful fact”.

McCormack warned that there are family farms that will have to destock at the start of 2023 and may have to further destock in 2024 due to the policies agreed by the current Government.

He said the net effect of such forced herd cuts will be the removal of the family farm model and its replacement with the industrial scale of farm we see elsewhere.

This policy is being driven by the changes introduced under the Nitrates Regulations which were proposed and designed by our own Government and cannot be blamed on the EU, he said.

Forced cut

McCormack described how some farmers won’t have the resources available to them to take up any of the “diversification options” required under the Nitrates Regulations.

He explained how without this option, the requirements under the regulations will mean a family dairy farm on 30ha with 84 cows will have to cut numbers by as much as 22 head (almost 25%) to 64 cows by 2024.

“That reduction of 22 cows effectively wipes out the economic sustainability of this farm and replicated through the neighbouring and similar farms, it undermines the viability of the wider rural community,” the ICMSA president said.

No consultation

“We have always said that farmers are happy and willing to play our role in this historic drive to sustainability, but we seem to be the only element that remembers that there was meant to be room for economic sustainability as well.

“The Government seems to have decided that there’s no need to consult or work with our farming communities and that this slippery tactic of distraction and elimination will work.

“It’s up to our rural representatives to insist that our farming communities get at least the same level of consultation and consideration that the Government seems very happy to give everyone else,” said McCormack.

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