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Niall Matthews, ICOS Dairy Committee Chair

The Chairman of the ICOS Dairy Committee, Niall Matthews has written to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine – Charlie McConalogue, seeking an urgent meeting regarding the future of Ireland’s derogation under the Nitrates directive.

Under the terms of the two-year review clause of Article 12 of Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2022/696 of 29 April 2022, there are serious concerns that the maximum stocking rate for derogated farms could be reduced from 250kg N/ha to 220 kg N/ha.

Niall Matthews said, “The potential reduction in the maximum stocking rate is causing considerable strain, worry and anxiety at dairy farm level. The threat to the maximum stocking rate should be removed, given that it is far from certain that a reduction in stocking rate, implemented either nationally or regionally will have the desired effect of an improvement in water quality.

In his letter to the Minister, Mr. Matthews stated, “The Irish dairy industry is strongly committed to improving water quality as demonstrated by our increased and ongoing support for the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme and the development of individual co-op sustainability programmes.

ICOS is equally deeply concerned about the potential economic and social implications of the review for farmers, dairy co-operatives, and rural communities. “The decision will undermine the efficiency of our grass-based production model by reducing pasture utilisation and consequently, farm profitability as a result,” according to Niall Matthews.

He cited the recent publication of the Teagasc Report “The Impact of Nitrogen Management Strategies within Grass Based Dairy Systems” published in February, which adds considerable weight to the ICOS strongly held position. According to the ICOS dairy chairman, the Teagasc document establishes compelling scientific evidence that puts into serious question, the appropriateness of the provisions contained in Article 12 of EU Decision 2022/696.

We believe a full review of Article 12 is warranted and justified. We call on you as Minister for Agriculture, to seek to fully renegotiate the terms of Article 12, which provides for the possible reduction in the maximum stocking rate from 250kg N/ha to 220 kg N/ha.

It is essential that the measures introduced under Ireland’s 5th Nitrates Action Plan including changes to the closed period, new requirements for soiled water, new banding rules and reduced nitrogen allowances are provided the time and opportunity to be implemented and their impact on water quality assessed,” said Mr. Matthews who is a dairy farmer from County Louth.  

A reduction in the maximum stocking rate, if implemented on a regional or national basis will have further serious consequences for Ireland’s already over-heated land market. The introduction of new cow banding rules has increased pressure on the land market to unsustainable levels, with consequences not only for the dairy sector, but also for other livestock and tillage farmers.

ICOS says that the economic modelling in the Teagasc document is “truly shocking”. The combination of cow banding and a reduction in the maximum stocking rate could reduce profitability at dairy farm level by up to 29%.

ICOS is equally concerned for the upstream consequences for milk supply and continuity for dairy processing should the decision be implemented to its fullest extent. Given the serious matters raised above,” Mr. Matthews said.

On this basis, ICOS is seeking an urgent meeting with Minister McConalogue and his officials to discuss the future of Ireland’s derogation to the Nitrates Directive and the implications of Article 12 for the Irish dairy sector.