Last week the focus was on climate change, this week it’s on water quality.

The visit by the EU environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius to Ireland turned out to be simply a courtesy call, no more no less.

No visit to even one farm. The results, or lack of them, following the visit and meetings are dealt with elsewhere in this week’s Irish Farmers Journal and online.

The debate needs to be broadened out. A lot of time and resources have been spent measuring ground water quality on individual farms and on different soil types.

It’s becoming clearer that high levels of nitrates are avoidable with sensible management, both on tillage and on most highly-stocked dairy farms.

The Teagasc Curtin’s farm at Moorepark has been stocked to its potential in a grass growing environment for a generation and yet, the nitrate levels in the groundwater there are within fully acceptable limits.


Last week, Teagasc held an outing to one of its Signpost farms. We were shown a cover crop sown after winter wheat in preparation for a crop of malting barley to be sown next spring.

Again but in a different context, the growing cover crop will absorb the nitrogen that would otherwise have been able to percolate down. Traditionally, the most nitrate rich rivers were those draining the sugar beet areas.

With the benefit of present knowledge, this is no surprise as the well-manured fields were harvested in the late autumn / early winter period and then usually left bare until the following spring.

We have moved on since then. There is no reason, with modern measurement capacity, why individual farms stocked above a certain level or if in tillage, receiving above certain specified levels of fertiliser, should not have their ground water assessed and the results fed into future nutrient recommendations.


This would be more scientifically rigorous, as well as much fairer to individual farmers. Blanket probations such as what we are seeing are not logical.

The same individual farm assessment should also apply to assessing stored carbon on farms. Northern Ireland, on the initiative of professor John Gilliland, has embarked on just such a programme. It will be essential if a real carbon farming possibility is ever to emerge.

Carbon, climate and water quality are all new features of modern farming. They are not going to disappear as issues, but farmers are entitled to be treated as individuals rather than subjected to blanket regulatory regimes.