Dairy industry warned it's at an environmental crossroads

“In the next five years, we need to see a reversal of the trend of water, biodiversity, ammonia and climate… this is really testing the industry,
“In the next five years, we need to see a reversal of the trend of water, biodiversity, ammonia and climate… this is really testing the industry," Mr Crowe said.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

Growing the dairy herd by over 400,000 animals since the abolition of quotas has resulted in a greater pressure on the environment, a senior figure in the Environmental Protection Agency has said.

“The dairy industry is at a really important crossroads" - this was the message from the director of the EPA, Matt Crowe, to farmers at the Teagasc Moorepark open day this week. Mr Crowe said trends are pointing to a serious deterioration in some key areas since quotas were abolished.

“Water quality is worse… biodiversity is worse, ammonia levels are up and greenhouse gases (GHG) are up,” he said before laying down a gauntlet to the entire industry.

“In the next five years, we need to see a reversal of these deteriorating trends in water, biodiversity, ammonia and climate… this is how the sustainability credentials of the industry will be measured,” Mr Crowe said.

He explained that there had been some improvement in water quality in the 10 to 12 years after the turn of the millennium but “since 2014/2015” the EPA has started to see higher nitrogen and phosphorus loadings to water and reductions in overall water quality.

Mr Crowe added that there is a correlation in the growth of the dairy industry and a deterioration in water quality. He commended the industry for its work on the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) which aims to improve water quality in a number of test locations. 

Farmers at the event were told that through increased use of the Economic Breeding Index (EBI), cutting down on water usage, switching from CAN to protected urea, planting hedgerows and trees as well as changing their slurry application method can all significantly reduce the environmental exposure at farm level.

'At least I can go to the pub now’

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For west Cork farmer Michael Crowley, the advent of low emission slurry spreading technologies has had a more practical result for him.

He said technologies like the trailing shoe in place of the splash plate have significantly reduced slurry odours around spreading.

“Some of our fields are near a pub and houses. When I used the splash plate, I couldn’t get a drink in in the pub or people would have to take their washing in… at least I can go to the pub now,” he joked.

The award-winning farmer said that farmers “will change” in terms of protecting the environment at farm level.

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