Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has warned of stricter measures being enforced on farmers unless Irish water trends go in the right direction.
He told the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) AGM on Thursday that Government has “worked extraordinarily hard” to retain Ireland’s nitrates derogation, but warned that the sector can’t become complacent in this regard.
“Our water quality is really good by European standards, but make no mistake, Irish water quality trends have been going in the wrong direction in recent years. To sustain our industry and protect the nitrates derogation, we must reverse this trend.
“We are actively engaging with the European Commission to agree a revised nitrates action programme for Ireland.
"If agreed with the Commission, this will then have to be put to a vote at member state level in Brussels. Subject to approval, it will apply for two years, with a review commencing in 2023.
“If our water quality trends are not going in the right direction, this interim review will result in stricter requirements for farmers,” he said.
He said that the sector must “work collectively” to improve farm practices on nitrates, especially around issues such as nutrient use efficiency and slurry storage.
Meanwhile, Irish agriculture is well placed to produce food sustainably, according to the Minister.
Describing the importance of global food security and Ireland’s role in achieving this, he said that the world will need as much food in the next 40 years as nearly all the food produced over the past 1,000 years.
Minister McConalogue said farm bodies must get behind agriculture’s climate targets if this food chain sustainability is to be achieved.
He said that agriculture will experience an “evolution” as it adapts to the environmental targets placed upon it.
However, he noted that “none of this is easy” and that the sector will “have to rapidly deploy all of the technologies and management strategies provided for under the Teagasc MACC curve”.
He described how the sector must put the “shoulder to the wheel in terms of the development and commercialisation of new technologies such as feed additives”.
“If we permit emissions to increase, however, we will be faced with an even bigger challenge in the coming years, one that will put even more pressure on farmers. So, we just cannot permit that to happen.
“We have to stabilise emissions rapidly, so that the tools at our disposal and the technologies in development can deliver the reductions to the level required.”
While describing agriculture’s carbon targets as “ambitious”, Minister McConalogue said they are “lower than other sectors” because the sector is “unique”.
“We are unique in the overall national economy, as well as the specific science around agriculture.
“Throughout the negotiations, I continually made the case that agriculture plays such a key role in the overall economy, as well as feeding 40 million people across the world,” he said.
Minister McConalogue again reiterated his commitment to the establishment of a food regulator for the agri-food sector, which he said must have “real teeth”.
He said that he proposes to bring the general scheme of the bill to establish such an office “in the first half the year”.
McConalogue told IFA members that he has and will continue to “back farmers” in relation to their position as primary producers.