Any measures on farms which deliver environmental benefits, but also deliver for water and air quality, are seen as “win-wins” for the environment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Director of the office of evidence and assessment at the EPA Dr Eimear Cotter told a meeting last week of the Oireachtas committee on agriculture on nitrates that the EPA wants to see less nutrients from agriculture going into water bodies.

When asked by Roscommon-Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice if the EPA was in favour of low emission slurry spreading (LESS), she said: “Any measure which gives improved environmental benefits, any measure that delivers for water quality and air quality and for greenhouse gases, those co-benefits, we see those as win-wins for the environment and for the measure, gives us more bang for the buck.

“We don’t get into the measures. It’s not for the EPA to get into what measures should be.

“We would not be prescriptive about the particular measures that need to happen,” she said.

Better enforcement or new rules?

When asked by Cavan-Monaghan TD Matt Carthy what would have the biggest impact - the enforcement of existing regulations or the introduction of new rules - she said the EPA sees a need for both.

“Given the fact the nutrient levels are increasing, given the trends we’re seeing in the south, southeast, east of country, we will need the full suite of measures as proposed under the fifth nitrates action programme.

“We do need that level of ambition built in to deal with these trends and bring the status of our water bodies back to where they should be.”