Dairy Industry Ireland (DII) has called for a clear focus on water quality improvement within the requirements of the Bord Bia quality assurance schemes for all sectors.

This proposal was part a 10-point action plan brought forward by DII to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture on Wednesday 29 may, which focused on the topic of retaining Ireland's nitrates derogation.

These schemes, DII director Conor Mulvihill said, provide an important opportunity to increase focus at farm level on addressing water quality challenges.

The 10 actions outlined by DII should be fully resourced and driven by Government, with the singular goal of securing European Commission approval of the continuation of the derogation, Mulvihill said.

In order to prevent further erosion of the derogation and give the sector clarity into the medium term DII proposed:

  • That the Taoiseach chair a cabinet sub-committee chiefly tasked with co-ordinating the crossover roles of the relevant Government departments that will be affected (Departments of Agriculture, Housing, DECC, Rural Affairs, Enterprise and Trade).
  • A clear Government-led strategy should be built around a national ‘Farming for Water’ movement. There already is strong industry and Government support for the recent ‘Farming for Water’ European Innovation Partnership. With the support of all stakeholders, it is important that the roll-out is designed to maximise water quality improvements measurably at national level, with farmer involvement at its core.
  • As part of ‘Farming for Water,’ every farmer should be supported to develop nutrient use score, with codes of practice for each sector - dairy, beef and cereals.
  • The closed periods for the application of organic manures to land must be respected by all farmers. Chemical nitrogen allowances should be reviewed in line with water quality working group recommendations. Industry will support and encourage this recommendation.
  • The industry will finalise an independent economic impact assessment on the effect of changes to the nitrates derogation, identifying potential future scenarios of a stepped reduction.
  • A 'future Ireland fund' should be mobilised immediately to underpin the Government ‘Farming for Water’ strategy and drive the recommendations of the water quality working group. This funding would be a fraction of the loss of output and export sales that would cause a generational splinter of the economy of rural Ireland.
  • Enhanced levels of intensive engagement with farmers on the ground by Teagasc, LawPro, industry and private advisory services can make a real difference in driving change.
  • A national nutrient storage programme is required with attractive rates of grant support to de-risk investment. Farmers are currently reluctant to invest given the uncertainty about the future of the derogation.
  • Finally, a targeted national ‘Farming for Water’ communications campaign, built on a clear and focused action plan, with specific messaging for the different agri-food sectors should be launched by Government without delay. This should contain key messages about the immediate actions that farmers can take to improve water quality on their farms. It must be clear that water quality is affected by a multitude of sectors and all agriculture enterprises, not just the livestock sector.