The progress and commitment of dairy farmers in prioritising and protecting water quality, in addition to a wide range of ongoing environmental protection and sustainability commitments being undertaken by the sector, has been highlighted by the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).

The comments came after the publication of the EPA’s Water Quality and Agriculture Report this week.

The organisation said that over 90% of Irish dairy farmers are signed up to sustainability programmes aimed specifically at protecting rivers and lakes.

Never before is so much being done on the ground to make farms more sustainable in order to protect water quality and biodiversity, ICOS stated.

Measures taken

The Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) provided by Teagasc, has 50 advisers, with 30 directly employed by co-ops who are working with farmers to implement practical on-farm measures to protect water quality. ICOS said that over 2,500 farm visits were carried out in 2023, and this year’s figures are expected to be higher again.

ICOS pointed out that over 70% of farmers now use low emission slurry spreading (LESS) which it said is a massive leap from a standing start only a few years ago.

Fertiliser sales dropped by 18% for the second year in a row from September 2022 to September 2023, according to CSO figures. This is now at its lowest level in over two decades and has come alongside a stabilising in cow numbers after the post-quota growth.

Edward Carr, president of ICOS said that nobody can accuse farmers and their co-operatives of not taking action to protect water quality.


"This commitment and activity will only increase in the years ahead. But the ultimate success and reward to improved water can only be achieved if all stakeholders including farmers, local authorities and other industry sectors stay focused and work together to achieve results.

“The tens of thousands of farmers who are signed up to environmentally focused schemes will be frustrated that the EPA report is not showing the fast improvement that we expect as a result of all that is being done to protect water quality but we as farmers must remain patient and continue with the good work being done to arrest a decline in water quality. We are more confident than ever that we will soon see the positive results of all of this work," he said.