Farmers protest outside ministers’ offices in Cork

Dairy farmers from across Munster have held protests outside the constituency offices of government ministers Micheál Martin, Michael McGrath and Simon Coveney over a forced reduction in stock numbers to meet EU environmental regulations.

More than 100 farmers marched to the offices of Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney and Finance Minister Michael McGrath in Carrigaline, Co Cork, before holding a similar protest at the offices of Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin in Cork city this afternoon.

They were protesting at an EU decision to reduce the amount of slurry that can be spread on land, which will force farmers to reduce stock numbers by 1 January.

Farmers say they will be forced to slaughter cows that are in calf because of the decision.

The reduction in the nitrates derogation from 250 kilograms of organic nitrogen per hectare to 220 kilograms will have a particularly severe impact in County Cork, which accounts for a quarter of the milk produced in this country.

Farmers argue that, by the time the decision to reduce the nitrates derogation was announced, many of their cows were already in calf for several months.

They say that implementation of the decision from 1 January will force farmers to slaughter healthy, productive cows.

Farmers brought two in-calf dairy cows to the protests to illustrate the decisions they have to make

They described the start date for the reduced derogation as being within an impossible timeframe, and called on the ministers to reconsider the deadline and allow time for what they call a just transition.

The protest was organised by IFA Cork Central Chairman Conor O’Leary, who says he will be forced to reduce his herd of 126 dairy cows by eight, while reducing his overall stock numbers by 26. He said the loss in income will be around €40,000 per year on his farm.

Mr O’Leary farms are in Donoughmore near the Shournagh river in north County Cork.

He said the river had been “green-listed” by the Environmental Protection Agency, because of its pristine water quality.

He said three quarters of Cork’s rivers are designated “good to pristine”, with just 4% being designated as having poor water quality.

Farmers brought two dairy cows that are in calf to today’s protests to illustrate the decisions they have to make about which animals to slaughter.

Mr O’Leary said the average size of a dairy herd in Cork is around 80 cows. These farmers have to reduce their herd sizes by around 15 cows each, he said.

“These farmers now have to go to the barn between here and Christmas and pick out 15 cows to go to the factory [for slaughter]. It’s an impossible position for a farmer,” Conor O’Leary said.

“We are here putting the same decision to the ministers: could you choose between these two as to which one doesn’t make Christmas.”

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