A major seven-year campaign has been launched by Teagasc in collaboration with farm sector stakeholders seeking to improve water quality.

The Better Farming for Water campaign is aimed at improving water quality on every single waterbody.

It follows the launch in March of the Farming for Water EIP which has committed €50m in farmer funding for implementing targeted water quality measures.

A new stakeholder group, which will meet three times per year, will also be formed later this year to feed into the campaign.

The eight key areas of action on which the campaign will focus are:

1 Lowering chemical fertiliser applications.

2 Ensuring optimal soil fertility for lime, phosphorus and potassium.

3 Only applying fertiliser and organic manure at the appropriate times and conditions.

4 Having sufficient slurry and soiled water storage capacity.

5 Minimising nutrient loss from farmyards and roadways.

6 Fencing cattle out of watercourses.

7 Using targeted mitigation actions, including riparian margins, buffer strips and sediment traps to reduce the loss of nutrients and sediment to water.

8 Maintaining over-winter green cover to reduce nutrient loss from tillage soils.

A ‘deciding factor’

The campaign was launched by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue on Thursday, with the minister stating that water quality will be a “deciding factor” in the future success of Irish agriculture.

Minister McConalogue is to shortly publish a plan to retain the derogation and improve water quality.

“Not one part of the agri industry is immune to the impact that decreasing water quality will have, so no one sector can be immune to taking action,” the minister said.

“This campaign and plan reinforces the vital collaboration necessary between advisers, farmers and Government working towards one ambition; to ensure a sustainable agricultural sector for future generations.

“This is just one element of the collaborative approach that I am leading on, to improve water quality and maintain Ireland’s nitrates derogation.”

Minister McConalogue said that he is formulating “planned approach” to achieving Government’s dual aims of improving water quality and maintaining the nitrates derogation with Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.

This plan is to be published “shortly” with Government’s negotiations for a post-2025 derogation to kick off in earnest next year.

Buy-in strong

Teagasc director Frank O’Mara told the launch that the campaign has seen “huge buy-in” from industry players and farm organisations.

O’Mara emphasised that the eight key actions are not new to the farming sector, but the campaign will seek to build on existing schemes and programmes.

“If we just rely on what we have been doing to date, we were not going to make any faster progress.

The authority will “significantly increase” the focus its farm advisory services place on water quality, while its education wing will see the topic “fully integrated” into its courses.

The director commented that while just over half of all waterbodies are meeting their water quality targets, the majority of those which do not, only need to rise one category – from ‘moderate’ to ‘good’ – to meet these targets.

Teagasc is also to appoint additional staff “solely focused” on water quality issues to drive the campaign on.