The Department of Agriculture has proposed rolling out a “tillage expansion and sustainability scheme”, having considered the draft recommendations of the Food Vision tillage group.

Measures included in the proposed tillage scheme will depend on its funding allocation, but no payment rates or overall budget allocation have been discussed yet.

Despite the “expansion” description of the scheme, the Department considers the scheme would be “likely more focused on implementing the measures where there is already tillage, rather than encouraging grassland farmers to convert”.

Measures in the new tillage scheme could include sowing cover crops, switching to protected urea, using organic manures and cutting pesticide use, Department officials have suggested.

The proposed scheme has been discussed at the Nitrates Expert Group, which includes representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Housing, Teagasc and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

'Potential' of cover crops

Cover crops have been discussed by this group as having “significant potential” to improve the tillage sector’s contribution to improving water quality, with the proposed tillage scheme raised as possibly being the “best mechanism” to encourage take-up of the measure.

The group noted that funding for catch crops under the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) is “still relatively low”.

This expert group agreed that the tillage sector “needs to do more to protect water quality”, and that “more should be done” outside of existing farm schemes.

The group’s talks included feedback from the separate stakeholder group on water quality on which farm leaders sit.

State officials from the expert group reported that farming organisations called for water quality measures to be targeted at all sectors, including tillage, “rather than the dairy sector or derogation farmers”.