Greater effort needed to extend nitrates derogation levels, IFA told

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue tells agm support of other EU member states required to keep current derogation and warns water quality must improve

Hard work on water quality will be required if Ireland’s existing nitrates derogation is to be extended beyond 2025, the Minister for Agriculture told delegates in heated exchanges at the agm of the Irish Farmers’ Association on Tuesday.

Charlie McConalogue came under sustained criticism at the meeting on a wide range of issues including problems with access to environmental schemes and delays to Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) payments.

But chief among the complaints was what was described as the Government’s failure to ensure that higher rates of nitrates use, mostly from livestock manure, continued to be permitted,

The Minister said the terms of the derogation agreed with the European Union last year were the best that could be achieved in the circumstances and that “all of our collective effort has to go into retaining our derogation beyond 2026. We must work hard to improve water quality.”


He said the issue was important in terms of Ireland “keeping the support of other European nations to keep our derogation”.

Several delegates received positive responses from their peers as they voiced their disappointment that the amount of nitrate permitted to be used had been reduced from 250kg to 220kg per hectare.

Kilkenny county chair Jim Mulhall suggested from the floor that farmers were concerned the limits would be further reduced with instances reported, he said, of banks stress-testing loans based on a future limit of 170kg.

New IFA president Francie Gorman said farmers couldn’t be left worse off because “they are being asked to be more environmentally friendly”.

A number of delegates emphasised what they said was the farming community’s firm commitment to protecting the environment but said the sector needed to be properly compensated for the substantial investments being asked of it.

Talks on the next Cap, due to take effect after 2027, have already started, the meeting was told, but delays to payments under the first year of the current scheme were raised with delegates pointing to the cases of members who had struggled financially over the Christmas as a result.

Kildare county chair Thomas O’Connor told the Minister that if his department officials weren’t paid on a Friday “they wouldn’t be into work on the Monday” but farmers were expected to produce food then wait for payment.

Mr McConalogue said that between 2 and 5 per cent of payments were currently outstanding and the situation was actually better than in many previous years.

Kieran McEvoy, chair of the association’s grain committee, said the amounts currently being paid under the Cap continued to be a major issue, with the Government and EU needing to be realistic about the payments required to pay farmers to produce high-quality food at below-cost prices.

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times