A wave of farmer protests continues to take shape across Europe after north of 2,000 Irish farmers protested a partial ban on nitrogen last week.
Bandon, Ireland, became ground zero for farmers frustrated by a potential decrease in the stocking rate of 250 kg of nitrogen per hectare on dairy farms to 220 kg.
However, a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report before the European Commission claims that nitrates "remain too high in rivers, groundwater, and estuaries in the south-east, south-west and midlands and eastern regions."
It proposed reducing the organic nitrogen stocking rate to 220 kg next year as part of the interim water quality review process of the country's Nitrates Action Programme.
An Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) chairman vented his anger with the government over the proposed restrictions.
"Frustration that they've done everything asked of them and yet here we are — and this is a regulation facing us that would reduce our capacity to repay," Conor O'Leary, Cork Central IFA chairman, told the Irish Examiner.
"The level of investment by co-ops, investment by farmers, it's massive."
Dairy farmers and others from the agriculture sector said this would force them to cull herds, impacting farm profitability by as much as 29%.
The Telegraph recently reported on the proposal to reduce agriculture emissions by a quarter by 2030. Doing so would involve an annual culling of 65,000 cows over three years, reducing the national dairy herd by 10%.
IFA poultry chairman Nigel Sweetnam added: "If you take cows and production out of the economy, it will have knock-on effects."
"This isn't just a dairy problem; this is a problem for the whole rural economy," he said. "This is to protect rural Ireland and stand up for all farmers who feel they have been vilified."
Reportedly, the proposal before the European Commission would be presented as an optional "retirement exit scheme" for older farmers.
Ireland's Agriculture Department lauded reducing nitrogen as "a science-based targeted approach to improve water quality."
"We fully accept we have to do more, but it's to identify the best way to achieve that without those perverse consequences in terms of demand for land but also to protect farm income," said an Agriculture spokesperson.
While it remains a "modelling document" with no concrete plans, farmers remain on edge.
The Irish Independent shed light on the compensation scheme for the proposed cull, suggesting a payout of €5,000 per cow. However, IFA president Tim Cullinan warned it would cause beef production to relocate out of the country if enforced.
Echoing concerns, Peadar Tóibín, the Aontú party leader, addressed the Irish Parliament about the dubious environmental logic of substituting culled Irish beef with imports from deforestation-driven Brazilian production.
O'Leary clarified Thursday that Irish farmers have "undertaken another waft of measures" to improve water quality but are not afforded sufficient time to implement the changes.
"We can undertake [all measures] other than the reduction to 220 kg," he said, adding: "It puts a competitive nature to the land market that the likes of tillage farmers and beef farmers can't compete with."
"If some farmers have to get bigger to stay the size they are, we'll have fewer farmers at the end of the day."