Niall Matthews, chair of the ICOS Dairy Committee has said that the organisation is deeply concerned at the lack of a ‘coherent Government plan to deal with the consequences of a cut to the Nitrates Derogation’ from 250kg to 220kg.
“The Government and European Commission need to intervene immediately with a plan to prevent a cliff-edge effect of a cut to the Nitrates Derogation. Otherwise, we are facing into the possibility of a fire sale of dairy cull cows and other livestock in the autumn and spring of next year, together with complete turmoil in the land rental market,” he said.
He added that ICOS supports and welcomes efforts by stakeholders to bring the European Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, and his officials to Ireland, but this needs to happen on a ‘sooner rather than later’ basis.
“The Commission needs to learn directly from stakeholders of the deep commitment by Irish farmers to improving water quality and environmental performance and the range of actions and initiatives being adopted by the sector in this respect.
“ICOS has requested an urgent meeting with the Minister for Agriculture to discuss the impact of the decision and to ascertain what concrete measures can be put in place to help farmers as, regrettably, it appears that this decision could be enacted within a matter of weeks,” the chair of the ICOS Dairy Committee said.
“Our key ask for the Government is to explore all opportunities with the European Commission to provide leeway for vulnerable family farms affected by the decision, and whose viability has been completely undermined and put at risk by the decision. It would be incomprehensible if these impacts are not addressed.
“We also believe that urgent measures are needed to address the barriers to exporting slurry to tillage and lower stocked livestock farms, including the need to re-examine the nitrogen content figure in slurry, and support for a rebate on the cost of hauling slurry. Additional supports for slurry storage are needed at farm level and incentives for those involved in the contract rearing of heifers must be looked at.”
Pawns in a political game
Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan said that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar needs to honour his commitment to get Commissioner Sinkevicius to Ireland as soon as possible. “There has obviously been a backlash in Fianna Fáil over the intervention of the Taoiseach and farmers are now becoming pawns in a political game,” he said.
“On Friday at our meeting in Limerick, the Taoiseach and his delegation heard directly from farmers the devastating effect a reduction in the nitrates limit from 250kg to 220kg would have on their business and he agreed to bring the Commissioner to Ireland,” he said.
“While everybody at the meeting on Friday recognised the challenge in trying to retain the 250kg limit for the entire country, there was a clear commitment to try and convince the Commissioner that he should look at the issue again. It was never the case that the meeting was solely about what happen after January 1, 2026,” he said.
“Since then, the issue has become a political football. Instead of getting behind the Taoiseach’s initiative, the minister has been trying to undermine it. It is time to stop the party politics and to sit down the Commissioner to make the best possible case to retain the 250kg in the mid-term review and beyond,” he said. Tim Cullinan said that he spoke to Commissioner Sinkevicius in Brussels this morning on the margins of the Council of Ministers meeting. The Commissioner said he was keen to travel to Ireland and he is awaiting the invitation from the Taoiseach.