The cross-border co-op Lakeland Dairies has called for a Government plan to be drawn up in order to protect the current nitrates derogation.

This request was made during a meeting with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue on Thursday 11 April.

The Lakeland Dairies' board also questioned the minister on topics including the VAT rebate and encouraging the next generation of farmers to take up dairying as a profession.

Confidence among farmers is especially low

Lakeland Dairies’ chair Niall Matthews expressed his concern regarding dairy farmers’ confidence in the current government.

"It was a very open and frank discussion on a range of issues and we all thank the minister for his openness. We acknowledged the minister’s role in delivering the world-first genotyping programme.

“However, confidence among farmers is especially low. The persistent inclement weather coupled with policy and regulatory pressures has created massive uncertainty and concern among dairy farmers," he said.

Farmers' future

The "huge uncertainty" around the nitrates derogation has left farmers wondering what the future is for them, Matthews added.

“We made it very clear to Minister McConalogue that we have great concerns over the Government’s strategy around the nitrates derogation and what its plan is for maintaining it. For us, it appears that there is no plan, there is no strategy in place to protect it. It is not all on farmers to protect what allows us to maximise our truly unique grass-based system. We aren’t like Germany, France or the Netherlands. We are unique and this needs to be recognised and protected," he said.

Following the meeting, Lakeland Dairies CEO Colin Kelly said that the Irish dairy industry is going through one the greatest periods of evolution in its history.

"After a decade of significant growth driven by a latent demand at farm level to expand, which was supported by farmers’ co-ops, the next decade will see less expansion. That is why Government must continue to back and support our multi-billion-euro industry. The dairy industry is the jewel in the crown of a balanced regional economy and its importance in this regard cannot be overestimated," he said.