Farmers in Ireland feel they have become an easy target following the release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest water quality reports, according to Senator Victor Boyhan. As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Boyhan has heard from farmers who feel demonized by the reports, which highlight an increase in nitrogen levels in rivers and groundwater due to agricultural activities such as the use of fertilizers and manures. Boyhan has visited farmers in various counties, including Cork, Waterford, Limerick, and Tipperary, and has found that many are currently in derogation but are now fearful for their future.
Under the terms of Ireland’s Nitrates Derogation for 2022-2025, granted by the European Commission, the EPA was required to conduct an interim water quality review this year. In its report, titled “Water Quality Monitoring Report on Nitrogen and Phosphorus Concentrations in Irish Waters 2022,” the agency noted an increase in nutrient concentrations since 2012/2013 in most water types. The EPA also identified areas where farms may have to reduce their application rate of organic manure nitrogen (N) from 250kg N/ha to 220kg N/ha starting in 2024.
Senator Boyhan expressed concern that if this reduction were to be implemented, many farmers currently in derogation would be forced to reduce their herd numbers. This, in turn, would impact their income and pose significant challenges in terms of debt repayment and farm viability. He called for a balanced analysis of water quality data to formulate national policy, emphasizing the need to consider all factors, including monitoring results from estuaries and coasts, in order to present a comprehensive picture of water quality.
According to Senator Boyhan, Teagasc research has shown that nitrate losses to water are caused by multiple factors and are not solely linked to herd size. He highlighted that farmers want to maximize competitiveness, sustainability, and profitability while also reducing emissions, protecting water courses, and improving biodiversity on their farms. Boyhan warned that if the European Commission were to insist on reducing the nitrogen application rate from 250kg N/ha to 220kg N/ha, it would pose major challenges for the Irish dairy sector.
He called for a multidisciplinary approach to address the key challenges of environmental protection, agricultural viability, and sustainable production. Boyhan urged all those involved in agri-research, advice, and innovation to collaborate in providing farmers, rural communities, and policymakers with long-term environmental and sustainable solutions for the success and viability of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, and food production. He emphasized the importance of working together to achieve these goals.