Measures to allow farmers flexibility on the impending 220kg N/ha derogation ceiling must be implemented immediately by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) has said.

ICMSA president Pat McCormack said having failed to move the European Commission on the matter, Ireland must focus on practical solutions that can be implemented to allow affected farmers a reprieve from the 220kg N/ha limit.

“We have a degree of autonomy and that must now be utilised to give the most hard-pressed farmers the required breathing space that they are going to desperately need,” said McCormack.

The ICMSA president outlined six policy measures Minister McConalogue should implement immediately to help farmers.

“These are measures that are completely within the gift of the Minister and which he can introduce as part of the nitrates action programme (NAP) review.

“Minister McConalogue has said he’s up for ideas on what can be done to mitigate the disaster his non-defence has inflicted. The time for talking is over - the Minister needs to deliver these measures this week,” said McCormack.

Measures outlined by the ICMSA

  • 1. The 220kg limit should be postponed for at least six months to give farmers time to make the necessary adjustments.
  • 2. The first 100 days of a calf’s life should be disregarded for nitrates purposes. The reality facing farmers in 2024 is that every animal will impact on their nitrates level. It is essential that we provide flexibilities so calves can be kept for up to 100 days without affecting a farmer’s stocking level for nitrates purposes.
  • 3. Farmers who use a low-protein concentrate during the summer period should be rewarded by a reduction in the N level per cow in each band. Updated Teagasc research shows that for every 1% reduction in protein, the amount of N reduces by 2kg for a band three cow, so if a farmer cuts the protein percentage by 4%, a cow in band three should fall from 106kg N to 98kg N. This reduction in protein content has both water quality and climate change benefits, so farmers should be incentivised to make this change.
  • 4. The ability to export slurry has been severely hampered by the change in N content introduced in 2022. The ICMSA believes this revised figure is incorrect and should be reviewed. In addition, where a farmer takes a sample of their own slurry, they should be allowed to use the figure established by an accredited laboratory.
  • 5. The exclusion of farmers from applying for a derogation for two years where they make a minor error is totally disproportionate. The rules in relation to exclusion will have to be reformed and recognition of situations where genuine or minor errors have been made.
  • 6. The 70% grant announced in Budget 2024 for farmers importing slurry should be extended to all farmers.