The condition to lower stocking rate limits in the nitrates derogation was slipped in under the radar at the last minute, according to Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) dairy chair Stephen Arthur.

The condition states that if water quality doesn’t improve by 2023, the upper stocking rate limit will drop from 250kg organic nitrogen per hectare to 220kg organic nitrogen per hectare.

Arthur told the Irish Farmers Journal that this represents “an asserted effort to cut dairy production in the country”.

He argued that the Government is not giving the current measures that are in place a chance to work.

“The excretion bands don’t come into force until next January, then you have the fencing of waterways, the reduction of 10% of nitrogen, there’s loads of measures that have gone in here.

They’re just moving the goalposts anytime they see fit,” he said.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack said that if this condition was implemented, it would impact about 4,000 dairy farmers who are above the 220kg limit.

Time needed

He also argued that measures taken on farm level need time for changes to be seen in water quality.

“It’s a bit like getting a prescription to go to the chemist and presuming you’ll be cured when you come out the door. We need the opportunity for new techniques and modern science to deliver results, albeit at a bit of a slower rate than what it should have been,” he said.