Report Synopsis

Improving Nutrient Management and Protecting Water Quality

Niall O'Regan

Water quality represents a challenge to which all sectors of society must respond and the Irish dairy industry is no exception. This report focuses on assessing the challenge posed to the Irish dairy industry, looking at key competitors globally to determine what lessons can be learned, investigating where the Irish dairy sector is in addressing water quality and establishing what practical actions could be taken in Ireland.

Feeding and nourishing a world population that is expected to increase by more than 2 billion by 2050, while recognising and balancing the environmental limits of the planet, is the most significant challenge facing global agriculture. While the overall outlook for the Irish dairy industry is positive with a growing and more affluent global population ensuring greater demand for dairy products, our ability to grow the industry will be defined by our custodianship of the environment.

Food Wise 2025, the successor to Food Harvest 2020, sets out a plan for further growth in the Irish dairy sector, recognising at all times, the importance of the industry committing to processes that are sustainable –economically, socially and environmentally.

Increasing farm output while meeting Nitrates and Water Framework Directive (WFD) water quality targets poses a substantial challenge for Irish farmers but also presents a fantastic opportunity. The challenge is to demonstrate that intensive, grass based, dairy farming is compatible with meeting the WFD. The opportunity lies in the potential to capitalise on Ireland’s sustainable farming credentials as promoted by Bord Bia’s Origin Green sustainability programme.

The Challenge

The EU Nitrates Derogation, which allows farmers to exceed the limit of 170kg of livestock manure nitrogen per hectare set down in the Nitrates regulations up to a maximum of 250kg per hectare, is vital for intensive dairy farmers in Ireland. In December 2017, the EU Commission approved Ireland’s application for a renewal of the derogation up until December 2021.

However, the derogation was granted with additional requirements for farmers to undertake to ensure environmental and water quality standards are improved. The commission will review the derogation again in 2021 with renewal dependent on demonstrable progress in terms of water quality.

The Opportunity

Retailers and food manufacturers are increasingly looking to the supply chain, including the primary producer, to provide details of the sustainability impact associated with their products. Those that can proactively establish strong credentials are well placed to secure long-term business relationships with leading retailers and food manufacturers.

Origin Green seeks to demonstrate those credentials at national level and showcase how we are global leaders for sustainability. Embracing sustainability has the potential to deliver a point of differentiation in what remains an extremely competitive global marketplace. The environment is a central pillar of sustainability with water quality a key component.

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