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‘Smaller farmers with 80-100 cows might have to reduce down to 60 or 70’

A proposed new measure to reduce stocking rates for farmers following an agreement between Ireland and the EU Council puts the viability of small farms as well as Ireland’s Climate goals at risk, writes Fianna Fáil TD Cork Cork-South West, Christopher O’Sullivan.  

The new measure will reduce the stocking rate from 250kg N/ha down to 220kg N/ha based on water quality in certain catchment areas.

Fewer cows

Being from west Cork, I know the importance of the dairy industry.

These proposed new measures could have an impact on especially smaller farmers who might have 80 to 100 cows might have to reduce down to 60, 70 cows and make their farms unviable.

It will put enormous pressure on smaller dairy farms who may not be in a position to buy up land in order to come within the stocking rate.

What’s going to happen is, you’re going to have larger, more intensive farms buying up land to come within the stocking rates that are being proposed.

Under the nitrates directive, countries are limited in the amount of cattle per acre. But Ireland has a derogation, which is the law allowing us to have more cattle than other countries.

New study

I am pointing to a new study from Teagasc showing farm livestock stocking rate “is not a primary driver” of concentrations of nitrate-nitrogen (N) in groundwater and streams.

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According to the Teagasc paper, a cut in derogation could see dairy farmer incomes fall by €374/ha.

Deputy O’Sullivan, who is also Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on climate and biodiversity, says the new measure may also impact Ireland’s climate goals.

It may have an impact on our climate goals, because land that potentially could be used for extra tillage or forestry is now being bought up in order to comply with the stocking rates.

We have to think twice about implementing this new policy,” he said, adding that the EPA is soon expected to publish its water quality results.

Obviously, if there’s a decrease in water quality, then there’s going to be huge pressure to adhere to this document.

But I believe there’s other ways of reducing runoff into rivers, and improving water quality.

If we want to prevent nitrates entering our rivers and streams, then need grant aid measures to allow farmers to adapt their farms to prevent runoff into river catchments.

And that I believe that this will have a far greater impact on than reducing stocking rates.

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