Farmers facing ‘uncertain future’ after derogation cut

September 18th, 2023 11:00 AM

By Emma Connolly

West Cork ICMSA chair Eileen Calnan said farmers feel they have been ‘led up the garden path’.

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THE chairman of Carbery said West Cork farmers have been left facing an ‘uncertain future’ following the decision to cut Ireland’s nitrates derogation.

Changes to EU law mean nitrate levels will be reduced from 250kgs per hectare to 220kgs per hectare from January 1. In practice this will mean thousands of farmers will have to reduce their herds or acquire more land. 

The decision sparked outrage among farmers, with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue the target of the IFA’s ire at protests at the Fianna Fáil think-in in Tipperary during the week.

The implications of the derogations cut are still being evaluated. Chairman of Carbery, dairy farmer Cormac O’Keeffe, said he had huge concerns as to the effect it will have on the land rental market as farmers are forced to find additional land.

‘Also, we have concerns about how secure the current derogation is and will we have to make cuts to numbers in the future. Farmers being forced to cut numbers could impact on stock prices, further hitting farm incomes. This makes the future very uncertain indeed,’ he said.

West Cork Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard and members of the Oireachtas agriculture committee met with EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius last Thursday.

‘The Commissioner was clear that there was still scope for engagement and that ‘flexibility is possible’’ said Sen Lombard.

‘Flexibility around areas requiring additional measures, as defined by the EPA map versus the entire country, was not ruled out by the Commissioner. Having sat in a room with the Commissioner and heard this, I can’t understand Minister McConalogue’s reluctance to engage and explore any options or flexibility that would help Irish farmers.’

West Cork chair of the ICMSA Eileen Calnan said farmers felt they had been ‘led up by garden path by the government’ and called for further clarity.

‘You may be sure if this was, for example Germany and the auto industry, the relevant minister would be doing everything possible, including meeting in person, to fight for the industry. We need the same fight for our dairy industry’.

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher said farm organisations now need to work together to ensure the interests of all farmers are effectively defended while West Cork IFA chair Donal O’Donovan said he never had so many shocked and angry farmers contact him on the issue: ‘There’s a lot of uncertainty still, and surprise at the speed of the decision. We need more information.’

Helen O’Sullivan, Bantry farmer and Farmer Alliance election candidate also felt the decision was ‘rushed’ and more time was needed to show water quality measures were having a positive impact.

Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan said retaining a 220kg/h derogation is now the priority. ‘This is the battle we must fight now.’

Independent TD Michael Collins accused Fianna Fáil of indifference towards Ireland’s farmers. ‘The government has effectively handed over a crucial sector of our agriculture to the EU Commission without securing any reciprocal benefits.’

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