Water quality major issue for dairy sector

On average it cost €3,000 to €3,500 to build and kit your own well
On average it cost €3,000 to €3,500 to build and kit your own well
Arrabawn CEO Conor Ryan

Martin Ryan

The environment is the most serious long-term challenge facing the dairy industry, Arrabawn CEO Conor Ryan has warned.

Mr Ryan said water quality was going to be a major focus of the dairy industry into the future, and he cautioned that sustainability and the environment must be prioritised by the sector if continued expansion in production is not to be impeded.

"If we are to avoid the situation that Holland finds itself in today where they have to reduce their cow numbers by 160,000 head, we are going to have to be very proactive and responsible for water quality issues," Mr Ryan said.

"It's about being aware of our responsibilities. It's not just Holland; New Zealand, the world's largest milk producing nation, has had some difficulties in this area also and they are paying the price for that today," the Arrabawn CEO said.

"My advice is that the day of not prioritising the environment is over. You must respect it and avoid a situation where it comes back to bite you."

A new multi-agency advisory programme which aims to tackle environmental and sustainability issues on dairy farms is in the process of being established. The initiative involves all the dairy processors, Teagasc, the local authorities and the EPA. As part of the programme, 30 advisors are being hired by Teagasc and dairy processors to work directly with farmers on improving environmental and sustainability standards. Ten advisors will be funded by the processors through the umbrella body, Dairy Industry Ireland (DII), with a further 20 provided by Teagasc and the local authorities.

The scheme will concentrate initially on water quality issues and soil fertility on the farms to identify areas where progress can be achieved through smarter farming management.

Conor Mulvihill of DII said that the approach by the industry is "advisory is superior than regulation" to achieve results.

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"You can talk about carbon until the cows come home but unless the building blocks of agriculture are right, the soil and water, you are absolutely at nothing," he said.


"That is not to say that we have huge problems in water and soil because we actually have a brilliant story to tell, with the EPA figures showing that we are near to the top in terms of water and soil quality.

"But we believe that there is still some room to drive a quality approach around water and soil on farms and that is what the scheme will be all about."

Meanwhile, more than €2m per day is still being spent by dairy farmers to alleviate the drought conditions in the south and east of the country, the ICMSA has estimated.

Although rain has finally fallen in the worst-affected parts of the south-east, ICMSA president Pat McCormack warned that drought conditions were continuing to pose serious challenges for milk suppliers.

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