Nitrates Derogation – What Are The Options For Your Farm?

The reduction in the nitrates derogation from 250kg to 220kg of organic nitrogen (N)/ha is a major blow to the Irish dairy sector.

Although this change may have an impact on all agricultural sectors, the dairy sector will be hit the hardest.

This reduction could have a major impact on a wide number of dairy farms and decisions need to be made now.

The derogation allows farmers to exceed the European stocking rate limits, once a number of other requirements are met.

Exceeding the 170kg of organic N/ha makes sense for many Irish dairy farms as forage production allows for farms to be stocked higher.

But for others, forage production isn’t high enough to exceed the 170kg and for those in derogation, the limit for your farm needs to be determined.

Water Quality

The reduction is due to European Commission not seeing significant improvements in water quality.

This has left many farmers frustrated as they feel the measures that have been adopted by Irish farmers have not been given enough time to show results.

And some argue that the reduction will not lead directly to improvements in water quality, as stocking rates on many milking platforms will remain the same.

The concern would be that if we don’t see improvements between now and 2026, that we could see the loss of the derogation completely.

But farmers are adopting and listening to the advice around measures that should result in improvements to water quality.


The nitrates reduction is a challenge, but one that the sector can overcome. Farmers need to look at their systems and determine what is the ideal or suitable stocking rate for their farm or milking platform.

This is determined by the amount of grass that can be grown, not by how many cows can be legally kept.

For some farms this may mean a slight reduction in cow numbers to match forage production to cow numbers.

For many farms, they may already be stocked to the ideal cow numbers and then the question is ‘what should be done’.

There are still a number of options available, such as renting more land – which many likely do not even need.

Removing youngstock off the farm by contracting rearing or looking at exporting slurry are other options.

But farmers also need to look at the extra costs that will be associated with these measures and ask themselves will it be viable or make financial sense.

For some farms that are just over the 220kg of organic N limit it may make more sense to reduce cow numbers slightly and get below the new maximum stocking rate.

But for farms that are stocked at 250kg of organic N and possibly already exporting slurry, dropping down to 220kg is a long way to come.

This needs to be looked at on a farm-by-farm basis and options that will suit one farm, will not work for another.

Now is the time that farmers need to look at their systems and determine what is going to work for them.

(Source – Agriland – Brian Mc Donnell – 13/09/2023)

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