Food harvest 2020 could threaten erosion of soil

Banbridge contractor John Dan O'Hare had seven of his nine combines cutting spring barley over the weekend, with no less than 10 of his sons and daughters helping out. The scene is part of the action in CMC Country's new farm machinery DVD due out in the spring
Banbridge contractor John Dan O'Hare had seven of his nine combines cutting spring barley over the weekend, with no less than 10 of his sons and daughters helping out. The scene is part of the action in CMC Country's new farm machinery DVD due out in the spring

Paul Melia Environment Correspondent

Ramping up food production to meet Government targets could result in increased soil erosion.

Research funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that among the major threats to soil quality is a targeted increase in production under the Food Harvest 2020 strategy, and that climate change also poses a major challenge.

Food Harvest 2020 calls for a growth in food and beverage exports by 33pc to €12bn a year, and increasing the value of primary production by farmers and fishermen by €1.5bn.

Climate

A 40pc increase in output from the beef sector, along with targets for sheep and pigs, are in place.

The 'Interactions of Soil Hydrology, Land Use and Climate Change and their Impact on Soil Quality Study', undertaken by researchers in UCC, NUI Galway and Duke University in the US, says our moist climate has the effect of "maintaining and sustaining" the fertility in soil.

The abundance of grassland, coupled with a lack of intensive agricultural practices, also means that erosion is kept at a very low rate.

However, it says this could change with the onset of climate change and meeting ambitious food production targets.

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"There are potential risks to sustainability of soil quality associated with intensification of food production in Ireland," it says.

"Erosion levels will increase in the future if significant increases in animal stocking density occur, as are called for in the Department of Agriculture's 'Food Harvest 2020'.

"There is an immediate need for comprehensive research to address the impact on soil quality of the recommendations of Food Harvest 2020."

However, Teagasc said that soil erosion was unlikely to occur if best environmental practice was followed.

"Erosion is not a big issue. I don't think increasing productivity will increase erosion if it is done right," countryside management specialist Catherine Keena said.

"It doesn't go with good farming and increased production, which wouldn't be done on land subject to erosion. We have green cover over the winter. We're really interested in that from the nutrient point of view, but it protects as well."

The report also warns about the impact that more frequent storms and summer droughts will have on erosion levels.

In addition, it says is an 'urgent need' to address the potential impact of wind farms on peatlands. Of 136 landslides recorded in Ireland, almost half occurred on peatlands.

The report also says that 2.1pc of the country's total land area is 'sealed' or covered by buildings in urban areas and roads, less than the European average. Researchers warn that this can have an impact on groundwater availability, and that planners should consider "no growth or reduced growth" in areas dependent on groundwater.

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