IRELAND‘S ENVIRONMENT minister Martin Cullen has told farm leaders that the 170kg/ha nitrogen limit contained in the draft nitrates action programme is non-negotiable.

The 170kgN/ha figure will remain central to a new consultation document due to be released on Friday (July 2).

This implies a standard stocking rate of 0.8 cows per acre, compared with the current Irish average of 1 cow per acre.

But during a meeting with the main farm unions in Dublin on Wednesday (June 30) Mr Cullen also promised he would look for certain derogations from Brussels allowing higher stocking rates.

“This is key,” Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president Pat O‘Rourke told FWi after the meeting. “The plan will succeed or fall on this issue.”

As yet there were no details on how the derogation would operate.

Mr O‘Rourke insisted that this detail must be included in Friday‘s revised draft, otherwise it would amount to a fudge.

The ICMSA insists that no farmers must be forced to destock and they should not have to seek special permission just to continue with what is already good farming practice.

At the Dublin meeting, Mr Cullen also announced the appointment of former Kerry Group chairman Denis Brosnan as an independent adviser on the nitrates problem.

His brief is to liaise with all stakeholders and make final recommendations to the minister in time for submission of the final plan to Brussels in late July.

“I am confident that he will bring invaluable experience to bear in implementing the nitrates directive in Ireland in way which will allow the most progressive farmers to prosper in the years ahead,” said Mr Cullen.

Irish Farmers‘ Association president John  Dillon welcomed the appointment of Mr Brosnan.

And he insisted that a new scientific report from Teagasc, the state advisory service, which supported the case for a 250kgN/ha limit, should be built upon in drawing up the government’s final submission.