EU raises Irish water quality concerns as nitrates derogation hangs in the balance
Farmers are facing a battle to hold onto their nitrates derogations as EU officials assess our application for rolling exemptions to phosphorus and nitrogen limits.
The EPA has already concluded that there was a drop in water quality in rivers from 2012 to 2015, despite the implementation of closed periods for spreading fertiliser and the billions spent on the Farm Waste Management Scheme.
Less than 70pc of Ireland's rivers are considered unpolluted, despite a national commitment to have 100pc at this level since 2015.
EU Commission officials are reported to be concerned that water quality here will decline further with the intensification of the dairy industry.
It has already revoked the nitrates derogation for Denmark and imposed swingeing cuts to the number of cows that Dutch farmers are permitted to retain.
"The view is that we're up against it because the view in Brussels is: how can Ireland drive on milk output and simultaneously improve water quality?" said one Teagasc researcher.
The derogation has been crucial in allowing farmers to apply almost 50pc more nitrogen on land than EU rules would otherwise allow.
A bi-lateral meeting between EU Commission and Irish officials from the EPA, Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture took place last Friday. A further six- to eight-week consultation period is due to kick off in March.