The Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) has stated that private farm advisers are an “army in waiting” and ready to help the farming sector tackle issues with water quality, but claimed to have been largely ignored by the Department of Agriculture and Teagasc to date.

ACA representatives told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture last week that private planners must be allowed participate in Teagasc’s Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) to get more farmers on board with reducing nitrates losses to keep the derogation secure.

ACA president Noel Feeney called for mandatory annual nitrates training for farmers stocked above 130kg N/ha and for the Department to fund nitrates specialists and a headquarters for the ACA. “We are an army in waiting, yet I have been in the advisory business for over 34 years. Do I feel engaged with? No,” former ACA president Tom Canning told TDs and senators last week.

“I have been excluded from the ASSAP, from the Signpost programme and more than likely, I will be excluded from the new EIP on water quality, and I feel angry about it.

“I have been dealing with derogation farmers on a consistent basis for a very long number of years.

“We are being underutilised and underfunded. We can achieve a lot.”

The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) warned the committee that losing the derogation would mean a net margin hit of almost €1,000/ha on the highest-stocked, highest-yielding dairy farms on their levels at 250kg N/ha.

ICOS president Edward Carr stated that dairy processors invested €1.6bn in facilities to cater for post-quota volumes, but this investment and a slump in demand for farm inputs, could jeopardise co-op margins if the 220kg N/ha derogation was lost.