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Fears mount in dairy heartland over nitrates and climate targets

Impact of nitrates rules and emissions target to cost hundreds of millions

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ICMSA President Pat McCormack says the impact of policies on rural economies will be enormous. Photo: Don Moloney

ICMSA President Pat McCormack says the impact of policies on rural economies will be enormous. Photo: Don Moloney

ICMSA President Pat McCormack says the impact of policies on rural economies will be enormous. Photo: Don Moloney

The Government has been accused of conducting a regulatory “pincer movement” on Ireland’s dairy heartland.

Farm bodies say farmers in dairy strongholds are facing a dual threat of meeting onerous new nitrates regulations and the State’s binding target to cut agriculture emissions by 25pc.

Fears are mounting over the impact of these measures in areas that have been the economic engine of Irish agriculture over the past decade.

Speaking to the Farming Independent, ICMSA President Pat McCormack said the Government “whether deliberately or not” is executing a regulatory pincer movement on the dairy sector which, he said, will inevitably cut specific local economies by hundreds of millions.

“The Government attitude seems to be that because the cow reductions cannot be attributed directly to the Emissions Agreement, they can’t be accused of telling patent untruths.

"But compulsory herd reductions are compulsory herd reductions and the ‘heading’ under which they are enforced is absolutely irrelevant. They are not fooling anyone and they should stop trying,” said Mr McCormack.

He added that the extent of the loss to local economies from just the reduction in dairying was going to be enormous and most politicians and observers seemed oblivious to the scale.

“A reasonable approximation would have €4bn paid to Irish dairy farmers in the year to June,” he said.

“If we note that Cork produces about 25pc of all our milk, then we see that just the payment received by farmers is worth about €1bn and then we apply the standard 1.8 multiplier as that goes through the dairy farms and into their local economies to contractors, feed merchants, construction and steel, fuel and insurance, and you see that the dairy sector — without any processing or value-added — is worth getting on to €3bn in just Cork. Then look at Tipperary or Limerick or Waterford or Kilkenny.

“If the Emissions/Nitrates pincer movement reduced milk production by say 10pc, then people have to realise that €300m per annum goes out of Cork’s local economy.

“Pro rata deductions as well in every county in Ireland, but you’re going to see very, very significant disappearance of local revenue and spend in those counties that produce the most milk.

“The absence of any serious analysis of this is worrying and indicative of the kind of ‘back of an envelope’ planning and policy that has dogged this issue from the start.”

These concerns have been echoed by IFA Environment Chair Paul O’Brien who said it was a “farcical situation” where on the one hand, the minister is telling farmers that any changes they undertake will be voluntary and on the other hand, “he is tightening the screw to reduce stocking rates. It’s totally disingenuous”, he said.

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