Louise Hogan: Is the era of unbridled dairy expansion coming to an end?
Is the dairy expansion rollercoaster about to come to a halt?
After just five years of massive growth, are restrictions on milk output once again on the agenda?
These are the questions that thousands of dairy farmers, along with the country’s milk processors, will certainly ask following warnings from the Department of Agriculture that major changes to management practices are required at farm level to protect the country’s Nitrates Derogation.
The sharp increase in cow numbers and milk production over the last decade has come at a cost, the Department point out.
The latest report from the EPA shows that water quality in the country’s rivers and lakes has deteriorated by 3pc.
Ammonia emissions — 98pc of which come from farming — breached agreed limits in 2016 and are expected to do so again when the results are released for 2017 and 2018. Farming does not stand alone when it comes to water quality, as a myriad of factors are blamed for fish kills for example, with municipal works or sewage, plus industrial operations, also major sources.
In light of the challenges, the Department has signalled that farmers covered by the Nitrates Derogation will have to do more to protect water quality from 2020. One practice that is likely to face the chop is the use of hill land to ‘dilute’ stocking rates and facilitate increased fertiliser usage.
In addition, farmers qualifying for a derogation are also likely to have to cover all slurry storage tanks and use low-emission methods (such as the trailing shoe and dribble bar) when spreading slurry.