The new president of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), Francie Gorman, has a strong mandate from farmers. There is one thing for certain, and that is he will need the backing of all farmers to complete the job of work ahead.

Following the organisation’s annual general meeting (AGM) on Tuesday, he certainly came out with his hands up ready for the fight.

In his inaugural address, Gorman said this Government had let farmers down on so many fronts. In his own words, “Farmers have been left in the lurch, and it’s not good enough”.

He highlighted CAP, Nitrates, TAMS, delayed payments, VAT and the forestry policy as the most recent examples of issues in which farmers have unacceptably lost out.

He didn’t stop there, and neither did he mince his words when he called out the shambolic mid-term review of the nitrates derogation.

He again called on the Government to fight for the grass-based system, and finished by warning that political parties cannot take farmer votes for granted.

The hard-hitting reality of one of the issues Gorman addressed, the Nitrates derogation cut, hit home loud and clear at the Positive Farmers and Irish Grassland Association (IGA) dairy conferences this week.

In Cork, UCD Professor Michael Wallace suggested the 220kg N org/ha threshold would reduce net margin on farms by up to €800/ha. The professor clearly stated that the new rule was making it harder to optimise the use of grass in the diet.

Competitive advantage

At the IGA conference, the IFA’s director of policy Tadhg Buckley called out the fact that one of the only competitive advantages Ireland has left is grass.

He pointed out that Irish farmers pay higher energy prices, higher wages, and that the nitrates derogation is crucial to keeping the grass advantage.

In England, land availability isn’t so much of a challenge, and even in nitrate vulnerable zones farmers can spread upwards of 300kg of bag nitrogen and stock farms up to 250kg of organic nitrogen on a field basis.

The fact that our banks are now stress-testing farm loans based on a 170kg/ha stocking rate clearly shows the confidence they have in our political leaders to retain any stocking derogation.

At the IFA AGM, the three agriculture ministers: McConalogue, Heydon and Hackett, all talked about the challenge to retain the 220kg stocking rate limit.

Minister Hackett went as far as conceding what derogation farmers are doing is “head and shoulders” over other “non-derogation” farmers on sustainability and improving water quality, and added that the derogation to 220kg must be defended. That admission at this stage of the game is of little solace to the farmers who are directly impacted by the new rules.


The reality is none of the three ministers who attended the AGM may still be in their roles at the end of the year.

Yet, across the country, farmers are making investment decisions right now for the next 10, 20 and 30 years, and culling cows right now to meet these new rules. This is all happening on what Minister Hackett described as farms that are head and shoulders better at managing nutrients.

Battle weary

I get the sense from farmers that they are deeply frustrated, battle-weary and feeling abandoned in terms of political support on this matter and many others. The only late Christmas gift the Taoiseach delivered was a promise to resolve the VAT reclaim issue.

I left the room with a sense that it’s going to take political change to bring about a new-found sense of respect for the food that farmers produce.

The new IFA president has a job of work ahead of him, and he’s up for representing farmers, so let’s back him and give him a chance to deliver.

He has a choice of what fires to put out in the short-term, so he is going to need to choose carefully with good advice and support on what battles to face head-on for 2024. We wish him the best of luck.