Little known rule change that could already cut livestock numbers on some farms

Dairy farmers now believe a critical rule change to Ireland’s water protection laws amounts to an effective cut to livestock numbers.

t comes as the Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan and Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue meet to agree on a controversial sectorial emissions target for the agriculture sector.

Minister Ryan is seeking a 30pc cut to agriculture emissions, a move which that farmer representatives have said would devastate the farming sector here.

Meanwhile, Minister McConalogue is under pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party, including his predecessor Barry Cowen, rural backbenchers in Fine Gael, and the farming lobby to agree to reducing emissions by only the minimum target of 22pc by 2030.

However, speaking following a meeting with the Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine, the President of ICMSA, Pat McCormack said that family dairy farmers have already been ‘sold out’ by the Minister.

A key rule change in Ireland’s latest Nitrates Action Plan which sets limits on livestock stocking rates on farms, will see these limits reduced in areas with declining water quality.

An Taisce, meanwhile, is seeking to bring a High Court challenge to the plan claiming that its implementation will have a damaging effect on Irish waterways, and on environmentally protected sites, due to excess nitrate pollution from agricultural sources.

McCormack said the rule change amounted to a ‘plan to reduce cow numbers on family dairy farms’ and claimed that it would have no positive impact on water quality.

“While the Government claim that to support family farms and the leaders of the two main parties stated that they do not support herd reduction, the reality is that family farms – the backbone of rural Ireland – are now facing herd reductions under a rule that will have little or no impact on water quality.

“Actions speak louder than words and the Minister’s policy is going to hammer families, many of whom have been dairy farming for generations.

“A dairy farmer with 40ha milking 112 cows under the current rules could end up having to reduce cows numbers by 29 under the deal agreed between the Minister and the EU Commission. The reality is that these family farms will be forced out of business, and we’ll see an industrialisation of dairy farming unless it is changed”, said Mr. McCormack.

It comes ahead of a meeting between the Green Party leader and Mr McConalogue today, where they will bid to reach agreement on the emissions ceiling for agriculture.

In a sign of the potential difficulties in striking a deal imminently, Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night refused to say if he would support imposing a 30pc target on agriculture emissions.

“It’s not just about setting targets, we’ve really got to start focusing on delivery, and delivery has been a challenge in the last years, and it will continue to be a challenge,” he said.

One Government source familiar with the ongoing talks between the two departments suggested a compromise may involve an emissions ceiling set halfway between 22pc and 30pc, arguing that it was less about the percentage and more about what could be done.

“Logic would dictate that’s where it’s going to land, in the middle; if it’s equally bad for both sides, it’s a good deal,” they said.

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