Department of Agriculture senior inspector Ted Massey has expressed confidence that Ireland can secure a nitrates derogation from 2026 onwards, but warned that the maximum stocking rate which will apply is “where we have the fight on our hands”.

“Will we be able to retain 250kg for some of the country, will we be able to retain 220kg?” the Department of Agriculture’s senior inspector in the nitrates division said was the question.

“When we're going out to Brussels looking at that period post-2025, chances are we will be, at best, one of just two member states seeking a derogation and we will be relying on all those other member states to support us in that regard.”

Speaking to co-op board members and management at the ICOS and UCC conference - A Sustainable Dairy Future - in UCC on Monday, Massey said that, as Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius had pointed out on his recent visit to Ireland, securing any derogation will be dependent on showing “stable and hopefully improving water quality”.

Challenge

“And that is a challenge for us. As an industry, we have to see improvements in water quality,” Massey warned.

He outlined the background to how Ireland’s last derogation was secured from the European Commission.

While the Commission had initially proposed a cut in Ireland’s derogation from 250kg N org/ha to 200kg, Massey said Ireland had successfully argued for this to be moved up to 220kg in areas where water quality did not show the required improvement set out in a mid-term review document.

“I'm fully confident we would not have succeeded in achieving a better deal, if we did not accept the deal that was offered in March of 2022,” he told the UCC attendees.

Massey said that Denmark’s derogation application process in 2024 is one to watch for Ireland. Denmark has a derogation with a maximum stocking rate of 230kg for a number of years.

Discussions

“The derogation they have expires next July and they're back in discussions with the Commission and they've made some presentations to [the] nitrates committee in Brussels. By next June, we should see how their derogation is shaping up for that period from July onwards next year.

“And I think that's one we really have to watch because that will give us a further insight into the Commission's thinking and the Commission's approach,” the Department’s senior inspector said.

Massey called on the co-ops present to help effect change for the dairy industry for a more sustainable future, saying that industry sustainability schemes were a very powerful force for change.

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