Sat, 09 Dec 2023

DUBLIN, Ireland: Ireland is gearing up for a challenging fight to secure a nitrates derogation for its farmers, avoiding the imposition of standard European Union (EU) limits that could have "devastating" consequences, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The country is one of three EU member states with a derogation allowing some farmers to work with higher nitrate limits than the rest of the EU. While most EU nations have a limit of 170kg organic nitrogen per hectare (N/ha), Irish farmers have enjoyed a derogation of 250kg N/ha. However, this will be reduced to 220kg N/ha from January due to concerns about poor water quality.

Farmers argue that this reduction will impact their livelihoods and may lead to reduced herd sizes, with minimal benefits for water quality. The EU Commission is not inclined to reconsider the reduction from 250kg to 220kg N/ha.

However, Irish Ministers emphasize the importance of maintaining the 220kg N/ha limit when the current four-year derogation is reviewed before its expiration at the end of 2025.

Speaking in the Seanad, Varadkar stressed the need to secure a further derogation for 2026 and beyond. He stated, "We have a real fight on our hands, I think, to hang on to the 220. That has to be a big priority between now and 2025."

Varadkar warned that a reduction close to the EU standard of 170kg N/ha would have "devastating" effects on family farm incomes, the economy, and the export industry. He noted that the impact would extend beyond farms to businesses associated with agriculture and the broader economy.

He also acknowledged the challenge of securing votes from the other 27 EU member states, some of which view Ireland's derogation as a competitive advantage.

Varadkar confirmed that EU Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius has agreed to visit Ireland to discuss the issue further.

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