By Caoimhe Looney
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) have called on the European Union (EU) to prevent the reduction of the limit of nitrate production.
The Nitrates Directive is a calculation that’s made per primarily on bovine animals for the amount of organic nitrogen they produce at the limits that the EU have imposed per hectare.
The EU’s Nitrates Directive permit the use of a maximum 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. The Directive allows for a time limited derogation from these rules in certain circumstances.
There was a special derogation that Irish farmers got from Europe to carry more than the European limit. That was up until this year, the absolute max was set at 250 kilos of organic nitrogen.
During the summertime they cut back to 220 kilos, so anyone that was over 220 now had to cull the extra cows.
“We don’t have a big problem in the West of Ireland. It’s a huge problem in the South, in the Golden Vale and particularly the Blackwater River,” said Galway IFA chairman Stephen Canavan.
“When they started classifying the higher yielding cows higher and reducing the limits people get into derogation territory faster, so the whole debate from farmers is that you’re reducing our income significantly,” he added.
Farmers have argued that their attempts to improve different technologies are not being considered.
“The guys have these higher yielding tell us they have already started to embrace different technologies as regards slurry, as regards fertiliser use, as regards different plants or grasses and that the EU haven’t given them a chance to make an impact. So it’s quite contentious,” Canavan said.
“I know people that have to cull 10% of their herd. That’s like taking 10% of your income. And nobody else has been asked to reduce their income.”
The EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius is set to visit Ireland on 23 November, following the invitation from the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s agreement with the IFA after their protest a few months ago.
“The thinking is anyway that there’s no going back on the reduction in the limit. But if we could hold it at 220 for the foreseeable future and give all the extra initiatives the chance to work, we might go on someplace,” Canavan said.
“Bearing in mind then that the water quality in Ireland is the best all other than Finland. We’re that good.
“When you take Holland or take Denmark or places like that where industry and urban areas are bigger, their water quality is absolutely shocking compared to ours, but they’re blaming agriculture here.”