The IFA's defence of the current Nitrates Derogation regime stepped up a gear this week when the association insisted that intensive farmers could not be threatened with further regulations or restrictions.
As part of its submission on the midterm review of the Nitrates Derogation, the IFA also called on the Department of Agriculture to introduce a Sustainability Development Programme to support improved efficiency and to continue to reduce the environmental footprint of the sector.
Close to 7,500 of the country's most intensive farmers operate under the Nitrates Derogation which allows these units to produce 250kg of organic nitrogen (N) per hectare. This equates to a stocking rate of 2.85lu/ha.
However, falling water quality standards have put the continued operation of the current derogation in doubt, with suggestions that the upper limit for organic N could be reduced to 210kg per hectare, which equates to 2.47lu/ha or a cow to the acre.
Other proposals being considered would result in farmers with the equivalent of 1.5lu/ha being classified as 'intensive' operators.
Such measures, if introduced, would severely curtail the operations of highly-stocked dairy units, forcing farmers to either increase their land base or significantly reduce cow numbers.
The IFA submission is strongly opposed to major changes to the current derogation regime.
"The Department of Agriculture's early midterm review of the nitrates derogation provides a real opportunity to support the sustainable development of a cohort of farmers who contribute over €900m in agricultural output in every county in Ireland and are a cornerstone of the future development of the sector," insisted IFA president Joe Healy.
Mr Healy took issue with proposals to classify farms stocked at 1.5 dairy cows/ha as "intensive", describing it as "an incorrect and deeply unfair perception of our family-owned and operated grass-based farms".
He added that the sector was experiencing an unprecedented and extraordinarily aggressive social media-driven scrutiny of farming and food production systems.
The IFA submission proposed that the climate metrics applied to ruminant livestock should "more accurately reflect the impact of methane" on global temperatures. It also called on the Department of Agriculture to incentivise on-farm carbon sinks such as forestry, hedgerows and permanent pasture.
IFA environment chairman, Thomas Cooney said a range of measures should be prioritised as part of any Sustainability Development Programme. These included:
Implementation of the Teagasc climate roadmap;
Increased funding and removal of VAT for low-emissions slurry spreading equipment;
Supports for greater use of protected urea, lime, slurry additives and soil aeration technologies;
Support for anaerobic digestion and on-farm renewables;
Greater use of organic manures.
The findings of the midterm review are expected to be published later this summer.