There are growing fears that new cuts to the upper stocking rate limit allowed under a nitrates derogation will apply nationally.

Based on water quality trends, it is expected that for 2024, following a review in 2023, the new upper stocking rate limit will be 220kg organic N/ha, down from the 250kg organic N/ha currently.

It was initially expected that the cuts to stocking rates would only apply to the intensive dairy regions along the east and south where nitrates is the main cause of poor water quality.

However, it now appears that the water quality measurements to be determined at the midterm review will also include eutrophication status, which is primarily due to phosphorus run-off.

Phosphorus run-off is deemed to be the main risk factor affecting water quality on heavier soils in the west, north and parts of the midlands.

Therefore, it is likely that the reductions to the derogation will apply nationally, rather than regionally.

This will have major implications for farmers operating at greater than 220kg organic N/ha as they will either have to source additional land, reduce stock numbers or export slurry.

IFA deputy president Brian Rushe was scathing of the new measures to cut stocking rates.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal this week, he said: “There is a challenge around water quality but farmers need to be given time for their investments in adopting new measures to show effect. It is ridiculous that more new measures are being introduced when the effects of the existing measures haven’t yet been seen.

“The Department of Agriculture is continuously coming out with kite-flying exercises around the derogation which serve no one. It’s causing huge anxiety among farmers, it’s not helpful and it needs to stop,” he said.