An Taisce’s claim that cutting livestock numbers is the only effective way to reduce nitrate levels in waterbodies is “simplistic” and “anti-dairying”, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) has said.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, president of the ICMSA Denis Drennan said An Taisce’s head of advocacy Elaine McGoff, who made the comments at the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture last week, “should know better”.

McGoff was referencing a Waters for Life Project, which assessed the efficacy of different agricultural measures for nitrate.

“Of note in this table, is the only highly ranked measure for nitrate mitigation is reducing the nitrate load, for example through reduction in livestock units per hectare,” she said.

Drennan said her views are a little simplistic and a bit too anti-dairying, without looking at other sources of nitrogen, he said.

He added that there are multiple sources of nitrate and they all need to be examined as part of a water quality solution.

“The simplistic view that all the nitrate in waterbodies is coming from dairy cows.

“Other farming enterprises, municipal wastewater, hydromorpgology (the physical characteristics of a river) and weather events, they’re all a part of the problem solving,” he said.

McGoff also said water quality mitigation measures on farms such as low emission slurry spreading (LESS), protected urea and extended buffer zones are ineffective when it comes to reducing nitrate leaching.

Farmers are improving these practices all the time, Drennan said, and the impact of these measures will take time to become apparent.

“Those measures are going to take time to work through the system,” he said.

Slurry storage

Drennan said increasing slurry storage capacity is key to improving water quality, but that the TAMS approval process for storage was too slow.

“The process is too slow. We need a fast-track approach if we’re serious about water quality,” he said.