Teagasc urges farmers' reps to engage with water quality plan

claire fox

The River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 is "farmers chance to get things right" and to avoid environmental quotas, say industry experts.

Housing minister Eoghan Murphy launched the River Basin Management Plan 2018-2021 last week.

The plan incorporates a new Agricultural and Sustainability Support Programme (ASSP), which aims to send Teagasc advisors to farms nationwide that are seen as "Areas for Action" in order to improve water quality.

Head of Environment Knowledge Transfer at Teagasc, Pat Murphy told the Farming Independent that he is hopeful that the project will engage more farmers to actively improve water quality and is calling on the support of farm organisations to back the initiative.

"When farmers see what's on offer, they can see that this is their chance to get things right and reduce their impact. If we get enough to listen to us we can make a difference.

"It's about being a support for farmers rather than regulatory.

" We expect to get a mix of reactions. If farmers don't engage there's not much we can do.

"That's why we'd be calling on the support of farm organisations, from a marketing and regulatory perspective to back us," he said.

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The plan also includes the Dairy Sustainability Initiative which involves co-op advisors visiting farms with the aim of improving water quality.

Director of Dairy Industry Ireland Conor Mulvihill said that while dealing with water quality is added stress for dairy farmers, he said it has the aim of reducing long-term stress and learning lessons from the mistakes of other dairy nations, such as the Netherlands who culled tens of thousands of cows due to increased phosphate levels in 2017.

"We have no choice. Farmers have to engage in water quality issues in order to avoid environmental quotas down the line. It's driven by consumer demand too," he said.

Mr Mulvihill added that co-op involvement and the initiative's advisory approach rather than regulatory one will encourage farmers to engage in water quality improvement.

"Co-ops really drive the farmers to get involved. If you regulate, it will only drive a split between urban, environmentalists and farmers. It's about voluntary behaviour based on actions that'll increase profit and lead to positive outcomes in the environment," he said.

ICMSA's Denis Drennan said the initiative will mean Ireland should be well placed to retain its derogation in four years' time if it makes continuous water improvements like the Dairy Sustainability Initiative.

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