Pressure is expected to be brought down on the EU to relax new rules that will be imposed on Irish farmers, which will require costly measures to be implemented for the prevention of ammonia, methane and nitrates pollution.

It is expected that EU Environment ministers will agree on Thursday to seek an exemption for extensive grass-based beef and dairy farms from the tightening of these agricultural pollution rules.

The European Commission is in the process of updating the Industrial Emissions Directive to take more polluters under the rules’ remit.

It had been proposed by the Commission that all farms over 150LU – around the equivalent of a 120 dairy cow herd with replacements – should require an environmental licence to operate.

Farms needing a licence will have to put their own measures for reducing ammonia, methane and nitrates pollution into action.

Impact on grass-based farms

Concerns with these plans were voiced by MEPs of member states, including Ireland's, regarding the impact they would have on grass-based family farms.

The Environment ministers are understood to be seeking to push this threshold to 300LU for pigs, cattle and mixed farms, with a lower limit of 250LU for poultry units.

These thresholds represent the equivalent of around 230 cows with replacements, 600 sows, 17,850 laying hens or 35,700 broilers.

Maximum stocking rates

The possibility of letting extensive, grass-based farmers operate without a permit could offer a reprieve to some dairy or beef farmers above this limit.

However, maximum stocking rates or fertiliser usage limits could apply to the granting of an exemption.

Currently, only farms with over 750 sows or 40,000 poultry birds need an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) licence to operate.

The Department of the Environment told the Irish Farmers Journal that it supports a “high level of ambition” in the updating of the directive, while also recognising that the “specificities of pasture-based farming” must be considered.

Further amendments can be put forward to the Commission’s proposals from MEPs to give more of an allowance to Irish grass-based systems, but Green MEPs could also seek to apply the permitting regime to more farms, not less.