Nitrates plan ‘will hit farmers harder’ than emissions targets

by Tommy Moyles

CHANGES to nitrate reduction are likely to have more of an impact on farmers in West Cork than headline emission reduction figures, was the key message at last week’s IFA dairy meeting in Skibbereen Mart.

The latest Nitrates Action Plan comes into effect from January 2023 and will increase levels of organic nitrate produced per cow with a new banding limit introduced for higher yielding herds.

Many dairy farms in West Cork will have a smaller land base compared to other parts of the country and subsequently higher producing cows. This can result in some dairy farmers reducing numbers on their farms by around 30% to comply.

Participants heard that if there is any deterioration in water quality in the river basin between this year and last year, then the limit of organic nitrate levels per hectare in that basin will drop from 250 kg to 220 kg. According to the EPA, a 22% reduction in Bandon River impoundment is required.

“We want to be part of the solution,” said Stephen Arthur, chairman of the IFA’s national dairy committee. “Farmers want and are working to reduce their emissions on farms, but they need support in making this happen. The narrative that farmers do not want to contribute their fair share in this process is completely false. But what we want is a proper plan agreed with the government on how this can happen.”

The ASSAP (agricultural sustainability support and advisory program) program is working where it is, why can’t we have a bigger program?’ – he asked.

Emphasizing that dairy farmers have spent €2.2 billion on their farms since 2015 and have a lot of bank payments to pay back, he pointed out that revenue cuts would hit the sector hard.

“Maybe non-farmers don’t understand that we have to pay mortgages and have consumer bills like everyone else, and they’re asking us to start taking 10 or 20% off our income before we start paying those. . “There would be an uproar if there was such a decline in income in any service sector,” he said.

A number of board members from the four West Cork co-operatives were in attendance, including Carbery chairman Cormac O’Keeffe.

Acknowledging that nitrates are a major threat to Carbery, with more than half of their suppliers opting out, he reminded those present that work is underway to reduce waste on farms in the area.

The Farm Zero C project and the ASSAP program were highlighted as positive aspects in which Carbery milk suppliers are already actively involved.

The new sustainability bonus FutureProof will pay a 1c/l bonus to suppliers in 2023 who take part in a range of measures including milk registration, EBI (economic breeding index) thresholds, using protected urea and committing to participate in ASSAP. program. For the rest of 2022, farmers who register to participate in ASSAP will be paid 0.5 c/l for milk supplied for the rest of the year, which will double in 2023.

He also recalled that the Ballineen-based processor had no emissions reductions on the farms of its milk suppliers.

“Carbery should also reduce transport emissions by 50% and energy by 40%. We have an anaerobic digester that can produce almost 10% of our energy needs, and the R&D building has solar panels that draw energy from them. At its peak, 100 trucks a day deliver milk, so that’s another area we have to look at.

O’Keefe added that research is ongoing into the feasibility of enhancing these existing measures, as well as developing new ones.

This is something the milk processor has been working on for many years and will continue to do so.

There were many concerns about the effects of the changes, as well as the potential for loss of income and employment in the area.

Also, the issue of agriculture not always being fairly portrayed in the media was raised, and some farmers therefore wondered if there were others in agriculture other than farm representative bodies who could discuss their experiences.

While farmers argue against professors on TV and radio, some farmers need more experts in the industry to voice their opinions.

At the meeting, farmers’ concerns about reducing emissions were focused on compensation.

Currently, only measures completed after 2018 will be considered, i.e. existing forestry and hedges are not taken into account.

When airlines and various companies allowed to offset their emissions by planting trees, one angry farmer said he planted 40 hectares of forest in the 90s and now can’t offset it against farm emissions.

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