No further expansion of the dairy herd will be accepted by society if declining trends in water quality are not reversed, the Government’s special envoy on food systems and former chair of the Food Vision 2030 strategy group Tom Arnold has said.

He said the dairy sector was now aware of the need to improve water quality and that there was no more fundamental aspect to global food security than sustainable use of water as a resource.

“I mean, one of the reasons why the dairy sector is under threat, under pressure, here in Ireland is because the rapid expansion of dairy has led to a deterioration in water quality and society has said ‘stop’,” Arnold said.

“You cannot argue for further dairy expansion unless you tackle the issue of water quality and start moving in the direction of improving water quality.

“And I think the dairy sector is fully conscious of that there is no trade-off here. The dairy sector has to deliver any further growth it is going to have while ensuring that water quality is moving in the right direction,” he said.

Arnold’s comments were made when discussing water’s role in global food security on a webinar organised by Colm Markey.

The Midlands-Northwest MEP and dairy farmer agreed with Arnold’s assessment, adding that maintaining sustainability was “probably the limiting factor in dairy production” in Ireland, before specifically citing the need to protect water quality.


Markey also directed a question on fertiliser’s role in food systems towards the former Food Vision 2030 group chair.

“Well, I think we are not going to achieve global food and nutrition security without fertiliser,” Arnold said.

He said the current high fertiliser prices are likely to demonstrate how fertiliser can be used “to the best effect”.

“We can achieve food security with lower levels of fertiliser – for all sorts of reasons,” he said.