Brussels tightens the conditions for derogation in Ireland. Irish farmers are angry and feel that their government has betrayed their interests. They even may form a political party. Dairy farmers in Ireland say that the government doesn’t care about their sector now that the derogation limits for nitrogen are threatened to be lowered. The current derogation allows for 250 kilograms of nitrogen from animal manure per hectare and was supposed to last until January 1, 2026. However, because Ireland has failed to improve water quality, the European Union (EU) imposed a reduction to 220 kg/ha. The new level takes effect in some areas on January 1, 2024, affecting around 3,000 farmers. They must reduce their livestock or lease more land.
Negotiations between the Irish government and the European Commission to maintain the original level have failed. This happened after the agreed-upon goals for improving water quality were not met. Dairy farmers are furious and accuse the government of jeopardizing the future of the Irish dairy industry, which is worth billions of euros.
The EU’s Nitrates Directive allows for the use of up to 170 kilograms of nitrogen from animal manure per hectare. The directive permits temporary derogation – exemption – from these rules under certain circumstances. Netherlands has also used this for many years.
Currently, Irish derogation allows for the use of up to 250 kilograms of N/ha on derogation farms. These intensive farms, varying in size from small to large and scattered throughout the country, implement a range of additional measures. These measures go beyond the standard requirements to limit the risk to water quality.
Charlie McConalogue, the Irish Minister of Agriculture, stated, “I strongly advocated to Commissioner Sinkevičius for the retention of Ireland’s derogation until the next review. This is based on Ireland’s unique grass-based agricultural system, the measures farmers have already taken to improve water quality, and the need for additional time to see the results of these measures reflected in our water quality indicators. But the Commissioner made it clear that Ireland is one of only three remaining member states with derogation and emphasized that there is no prospect of a review of the current decision.”
According to the minister, it may be possible to make some minor adjustments based on scientific grounds, but it is unlikely to have an impact on the vast majority of farmers covered by a derogation.
Beware of angry farmers
Farmers are furious, and some accuse the government of “selling out family businesses in the dairy sector” and “bowing to the EU Commission.”
Pat McCormack, chairman of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) and a dairy farmer, says that due to this “abject surrender” of the government to the EU, the Irish dairy sector is in a “very dangerous situation.”
“Our grass-based dairy sector is the jewel in the crown of our agriculture, and the government has – without Minister McConalogue even making a squeak – conceded to the EU Commission without us getting anything in return.”