An IFA delegation led by IFA president Tim Cullinan met with EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius, in Brussels last week.

Speaking after the meeting, Tim Cullinan said that the meeting had been forthright, but constructive.

The Commissioner confirmed he would visit Ireland next week on foot of the invitation from An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, following his meeting with IFA at the Fine Gael party ‘think-in’ in Limerick in September.

“It was clear at the meeting that the Commissioner wants to be helpful to Irish farmers on the issue. It is vital that our minister and his Department have proper engagement with the Commissioner and his officials to explore possible compromises,” Tim Cullinan said.

“We were very clear with the Commissioner that we are very proud of our grass-based production system, which is the basis for our derogation,” he said.

Mid-term review ‘unfair’

“The mid-term review mechanism agreed by our Department was unfair and did not give any time for the measures farmers are already carrying out to have a positive effect on water quality,” he said.

“The reality is that reducing the upper-limit of the derogation – from 250kg of organic nitrogen per ha to 220kg – will have little impact on water quality, but it will have huge consequences for the farmers directly impacted; and for thousands more farmers indirectly impacted, as it will further increase the cost of rented land. We stressed this very strongly to the Commissioner,” he added.

Red Zone

In addition, it is clear that it is completely unreasonable to expect farmers in the so-called ‘Red Zone’ to reduce their stocking rate to 220kg by the end of this year, which is less than eight weeks away.

“Farmers made the decision to put their cows in calf last spring before any decision was taken to reduce some areas to 220kg organic N.

“It is unreasonable – and not in line with good animal welfare – to now expect farmers to cull these in-calf cows,” he said.