Balancing common sense, succession, nitrates and positivity in the dairy sector at the moment is proving a challenge. I and many others firmly believe there is a very positive future for aspiring young dairy farmers in Ireland.

However, there is the ever-present danger of over-regulation and bureaucracy threatening to stifle the very core of the sector. It’s not that farmers don’t want regulation and order, but a combination of regulation duplication and nonsense limits are now seriously frustrating quality food producers.

While Minister Simon Coveney rightly called out the farcical ‘time and transition’ issues associated with the imposition of the nitrates derogation limits this week at the ICOS conference in Cork, he was quickly pointing to exporting slurry off farm as a nitrates solution.

He said he had been contacted by many tillage farmers looking for slurry.

Of course tillage farmers would want an excellent source of nutrients and organic matter. However, we know from Department funded research and advice that it’s not a practical or economic solution for dairy farmers.

The Teagasc Moorepark boss Laurence Shalloo puts it last in the line of solutions before stock reduction.

Think about it – burning valuable time, fossil fuels and rubber to get nutrients from one farm to the next. We know our soil test results show vast parts of the country need more phosphorus and potassium – even on dairy farms.

So, do farmers then go importing valuable and scarce phosphorus and potassium in a bag to replace the slurry on grass growing farms?

Leaving aside the fact that the vast majority of tillage farmers haven’t the capacity to store nutrients or the cost benefit equation, we know from the high level European gathering that visited the Catchments Programme earlier this autumn that moving slurry is not the stocking rate solution for Ireland.

It helps in Denmark and the Netherlands where they have animals indoors all year round, and where maize and high yielding forage crops for harvesting rather than grazing is the focus.


Again this nonsense that Ireland should watch what happens Denmark’s derogation was dribbled out this week. If that’s what we are watching, we may as well give up now.

The president of ICOS Edward Carr hit the nail on the head when he said generational renewal is a common issue all over Europe and it is on a par with sustainability as a priority.

Think of the young people that attended Dairy Day, and the Teagasc National Dairy conference in the last week. They don’t want to be listening to established and well-educated farmers bickering and giving out about not having solutions to nitrates.

Farmers are solution makers, they are the best in the business at it, they dedicate their lives to solving challenges on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings when everyone else is off work or in bed.

Farmers do, however, need some help from our Department leaders, our politicians, and our scientists to continue doing what they do best.

Golden era

If we want the golden era of dairy farming to continue to prosper in Ireland, then farmers need to be allowed do what Australian David Beca said at the Teagasc dairy conference in Kilkenny last week – convert grass into milk, because that is what farmers do best in Ireland.

He said farmers need to stay away from milk yield per cow being the driver of on-farm profit because there is a very low correlation between yield per cow and profit.

When land is limiting, he said, farmers must focus on what that land can grow and milk is the by-product of that.

As nitrates and stocking rate is top of the agenda here for farmers, we need these important reminders.

However, ask Irish farmers and they will tell you that when they hear herd reduction or limits on stock, they think; “What more can I get out of the cows that are left?”

That’s the exact opposite to what David Beca talks about.


The Australian dairy industry has collapsed in the last twenty years. They have gone from importing 100,000 tonnes of dairy product twenty years ago to 350,000 tonnes this year.

Where farmers can graze in Western Australia they can survive, but in areas like Queensland where costs are high, farmers simply can’t survive.

However, it’s not only farmers that need these timely reminders. Our policymakers need reminders also, and if it is not understood at EU level, then that must be our priority.

We need our EU leaders to understand how Ireland is different – how Ireland can lead EU food production while improving water quality and reducing emissions.

If young farmers are to grasp the golden era ahead in Irish dairy farming, then real, viable and practical solutions are needed – not cheap political rhetoric.