We are in danger of tying ourselves up in national knots as we try, as an industry, to come to grips with the whole range of environmental threats coming down the tracks.
It’s time to keep a sense of perspective. Last week, the Irish Farmers Journal, with the accountancy firm KPMG, held a first-class afternoon on the developing and likely trends in the use to which Irish land is being put.
Just a few days before, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its most recent report on the state of Ireland’s waters.
It is a pity the EPA comes out with such an air of negativity. Instead of saying that there is no improvement overall in Irish water quality, it would in my view, have been preferable to say the quality had stopped deteriorating which in light of a welcome major expansion in dairy farming after the abolition of quotas, as well as an increase in the national human population, is a significant national achievement which can and is being built on.
In the same publication, the EPA published tables showing the amounts of phosphate and nitrates in the waterways of other European countries – Ireland scores extremely well in comparison.
Of course, there are areas where we could do better as the EPA itself points out – there are significant improvements in some parts of the country which are being intensively farmed but there is a deterioration in some other areas.
But we know now what needs to be done in these areas. In some locations, the problems lie with raw or inadequately treated sewage being discharged into waterways (though it should be said there is nothing like the national scandal that is happening with the English sewage system).
This is up to the local authorities and Irish Water.
Environmental progress is possible with productive farming
In the case of problems with agricultural runoff and pollution, the joint programmes between Teagasc and the EPA are producing real knowledge that will lead to continuous improvements where there are localised problems.
Again, we should keep a sense of perspective.
The Netherlands has approximately 1.6m high-yielding dairy cows and 800,000 sows in an area the size of Munster.
We have approximately the same number of dairy cows and about 120,000 sows in an area almost four times as large.
The Dutch industry is being convulsed by the present government’s approach but over the last few years, they have made significant progress in improving water quality despite their high national stocking rates.
Environmental progress is possible with productive farming. As in most things, we need a sense of balance coupled with the application of good science.