The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Mr. Eoghan Murphy T.D., and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Michael Creed T.D., together with Jim Woulfe, Chairperson of Dairy Industry Ireland, (29 November 2017) launched an innovative collaboration between Government and industry to promote and encourage sustainable farming while meeting stringent water quality requirements.
The ‘Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme’ is a new approach to achieving improvement in water quality involving the establishment and joint funding of a resource of 30 Agricultural Sustainability Advisors.
Commenting at the launch, Minister Murphy and Minister Creed stated: “We are delighted to be launching the Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme today. This initiative is another demonstration of the Government’s commitment to delivering on the environmental challenges we face. It will be a further step towards putting yet more substance behind our green credentials”.
Speaking about the cross-sectoral approach, Minister Murphy commented: “this is an example of all stakeholders – public and private – coming together with a unified approach, using their considerable expertise and resources to address the complex, cross-cutting challenge of protecting our water bodies on which we all depend.”
Through a commitment from both Departments and support by industry, the 30 Advisors will work within a unified partnership structure which encompasses Teagasc, the Co-ops and LAWCO – the local authorities Water and Communities Office. The new Sustainability Advisors will proactively advise and work with farmers to protect and improve water quality. The Programme will draw on the experience and resources of key sectoral and industry stakeholders including the two Departments, the local authorities, the Dairy Co-ops, Teagasc, Bord Bia and the farm organisations.
Welcoming the Programme, the Minister Creed said “This Programme shows that the ongoing development of the agricultural sector, which is critically important to rural communities, and enhanced environmental outcomes can be achieved concurrently’. The Programme supports the goals of the Food Wise 2025 strategy, facilitating increased productivity hand-in-hand with a more sustainable sector.
This sustainability and efficiency will be achieved through improved nutrient management with more targeted use of fertiliser, better farmyard practice, more widespread use of sustainability approaches developed by Teagasc and the development of new approaches in critical source areas.
According to Dairy Industry Ireland Chairperson, Jim Woulfe, “Ireland’s grass-fed dairy production has an excellent reputation worldwide. Maintaining and strengthening that reputation in the years ahead is imperative, especially in light of post-quota dairy expansion and for the 18,000 dairy-farming families whose livelihoods depend on milk production – improved sustainability performance is key to this.’
Professor Gerry Boyle of Teagasc commented that “the objective of this new approach is to encourage and support behavioural change, facilitate knowledge transfer and achieve better on-farm environmental outcomes. These features are regarded as cornerstones of the drive towards better farming practices.”
The Programme directly addresses these challenges and will be a key measure in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government’s final River Basin Management Plan.
Under the Programme, the new team will promote on-farm sustainability best practice to all farmers. In addition, local authorities – with the technical support of the Environmental Protection Agency – will identify risk areas at local level. Teagasc and the Co-ops, working with the farm organisations at local level, will then provide advice and support to farmers in managing on-farm risks. The Co-ops will support sustainability best practice through their structures, promoting best farm practice and nutrient management processes across all their suppliers.
The Programme has the potential to strengthen delivery of Ireland’s obligations under the Water Framework Directive. It is part of a new approach to River Basin Management Planning for the 2018 – 2021 cycle. This new approach includes the development of a much-strengthened evidence base to understand the full range of pressures affecting water quality and the development of the programmes of measures needed to deliver improvements. Over time, the Programme will also address on-farm climate change and biodiversity strategies.
The Programme will be jointly funded by both Departments, Teagasc, local authorities and the Dairy Co-ops on a trial basis for four years to 2021.
River Basin Management Planning:
River Basin Management Planning takes an integrated approach to the protection, improvement and sustainable management of the water environment. The Plans set out the framework for ensuring that Ireland’s water environment is protected and improved, in line with the objectives of the Water Framework Directive.
Ireland’s River Basin Management Plan for 2018-2021 will be published by Minister Eoghan Murphy in early 2018. The plan will identify the measures that Ireland will put in place to protect and improve water quality. The most recent water quality report published by EPA in 2017 shows that only 57% of rivers, 46% of lakes, 31% of transitional and 79% of coastal waters are meeting the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. 91% of groundwater bodies meet the required water quality standards for groundwater.
The Water Framework Directive requires that all water bodies, with some exceptions, must be restored to good status by 2027 at the latest.
Overall, the quality of surface waters has remained relatively static since 2007 to 2009. Some have improved while others have dis-improved. However Ireland has not met the planned national target of a 13 per cent improvement in water quality anticipated in the first River Basin Management Plan for the period 2009 to 2015.
Many complex factors can affect water quality and measures across a range of sectors will be needed to deliver improvement in most cases. Therefore, the collaborative response by both Departments, local authorities, the Dairy Co-ops, Teagasc and Bord Bia is the most effective means to address our shared water quality challenge