Water Quality Report Leaves Farmers Feeling ‘Demonised’ – Senator Raises Concerns

Farmers Feel “Demonised” as EPA Reports Highlight Water Quality Concerns
Water Quality Report Leaves Farmers Feeling 'Demonised' – Senator Raises Concerns

Farmers in Ireland feel they have become an easy target following the release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest water quality reports, according to Senator Victor Boyhan. The reports highlighted an increase in nitrogen levels, mainly from agriculture, in rivers and groundwater. Senator Boyhan, a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, has spoken to farmers in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, and Tipperary, who expressed feeling demonized and fearful for their future. Many of these farmers are currently in derogation, but if forced to reduce their herd numbers, they would face significant challenges in terms of debt repayment and farm viability.

The EPA was required to conduct an interim water quality review this year as part of Ireland’s Nitrates Derogation for 2022-2025, granted by the European Commission. In its report, titled “Water Quality Monitoring Report on Nitrogen and Phosphorus Concentrations in Irish Waters 2022,” the agency revealed an increase in nutrient concentrations in most water types since 2012/2013. The EPA also identified areas where farms may need to reduce their application rate of organic manure nitrogen (N) from 250kg N/ha to 220kg N/ha starting in 2024.

Senator Boyhan highlighted the potential impact of such reductions on farmers currently in derogation, stating that it would affect their income, debt repayment, and farm viability. He called for a balanced analysis of water quality data to formulate national policy, emphasizing the importance of considering all factors, including monitoring results from estuaries and coasts. Senator Boyhan cited Teagasc research, which shows that nitrate losses to water are caused by multiple factors and are not solely linked to herd size.

Farmers aim to maximize competitiveness, sustainability, and profitability while reducing emissions, protecting water courses, and improving biodiversity on their farms. However, if the European Commission were to insist on reducing the nitrogen application rate, it would pose significant challenges for the Irish dairy sector. Senator Boyhan emphasized the need for a multidisciplinary approach to address the key challenges of environmental protection, agricultural viability, and sustainable production.

He called on all stakeholders involved in agri-research, advice, and innovation to collaborate and provide farmers, rural communities, and policymakers with long-term environmental and sustainable solutions for the success and viability of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, and food production. Senator Boyhan concluded by expressing the importance of working together to achieve these ambitions.