Agriculture is causing half of the problems relating to water quality, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Laura Burke has said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Countrywide on Saturday morning, Burke warned that half of all water bodies in Ireland are below satisfactory condition, with agriculture a significant contributor.

“At a national level, all the trends are going the wrong way. Water quality is getting worse, greenhouse gas (GHG) and ammonia emissions are going up.

“What I would say is that the picture at national level masks an awful lot of really good action at a local level. It’s the overall the sum of the parts that mean the trends are going in the wrong direction as a collective.”

Own interests

The EPA director said that as Ireland promotes climate friendly agriculture, competitors will ask questions of current water quality and GHG levels.

“It’s in our economic interest to make sure that we’re doing the right thing because we promote ourselves on being clean and green, and we have to have the evidence to demonstrate it,” Burke said.

“At the moment, it’s difficult to stand over some of our environmental claims when you look and see what’s happening. If we keep producing more and more, and we damage our environment, then we will lose the credibility of our markets.”

Burke cautioned that the debate should not be polarised to focus solely on farmers, with environmental responsibility resting with the wider community.

The future

Burke said there is a huge opportunity in the next CAP to pay farmers for positive environmental outcomes.

“We all change and evolve and farming is no different. I think there’s going to be opportunities to diversify with incentives and supports. It won’t be moving from one extreme to another.

“In future we’ll have farms with more forestry. We may be looking at carbon farming and getting paid to protect the land. There will be opportunities and now is the time to take them.”

Shift in focus

Last month, Irish water noted a higher level of water quality issues that it is linking to amateur users of pesticides.

Irish Water has seen an increase in glyphosate and 2, 4-D pesticide in water supplies which indicates greater application by amateur users, its regional drinking water compliance specialist Dr Pat O’Sullivan has told the Irish Farmers Journal.

He is critical of the ease with which members of the public can buy pesticides which are tightly regulated for use on farms.

Read more

Rise in pesticide problems linked to non-farming use

Collaborating to improve water quality