Several hundred farmers joined an Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) protest against changes to Ireland’s nitrates derogation in Kilkenny on Friday evening.

The 'Farmers' Futures Matter' rally, held at Cillín Hill outside Kilkenny city, saw the turnout of a number of local politicians as well as IFA members from all surrounding counties.

Kilkenny IFA chair Jim Mulhall led proceedings, which saw approximately 600 farmers follow 50 tractors in a lap around the mart before speeches at a central stage.

All farmers

Mulhall warned against allowing derogation changes to be brought in, insisting the issue is one for the entire farm sector, not just those in dairy.

“It had been said to me a few times during the week that this is a dairy farmers' problem, but this affects all Irish agriculture.

IFA Kilkenny chair Jim Mulhall. \ IFA

“There’s a divide there between the sectors and even within the [dairy] sector. There’s a divide coming in terms of big versus small, which is not healthy either.

“The potential change to the derogation has the potential to cause huge issues to us as farmers and to productive farmers, the people dependent on farming for a living,” he said.

‘Lip service’

IFA Kildare chair Thomas O’Connor said that all he can see coming from Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue is “cuts and bureaucracy” blocking him from producing food.

Farmers holding placards at the IFA protest in Kilkenny on Friday evening. \ IFA

“The Minister for Agriculture is the Minister that is driving the bus of the agricultural economy and sitting beside him is [Taoiseach] Leo Varadkar.

"He pays us lip service saying that he wants to support the person who gets up at 6am in the morning and the person who gets his dinner in the middle of the day.

“We want to give these two men a mandate tonight that it’s time they stop giving us lip service and it’s time they get on the field and listen to what farmers have to say.”

Farmers from several counties joined the Kilkenny protest. \ IFA

Farmer concerns

Farmers speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal at the Kilkenny protest outlined their concerns relating to changes to the nitrates derogation. Many said they will have to reduce cow numbers or gain more land, land which some said simply is not there.

About 50 tractors were used in Friday evening's Kilkenny farmer rally. \ IFA

Others warned that after expanding their dairy businesses, reductions in stocking rates will threaten their ability to make loan repayments.

Some even went as far as to say that derogation changes would rule out a livelihood for their successor dairy farmers in future.

More to follow.