Comment: Coveney has dropped the baton where drainage is concerned

I was shocked to learn that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney has kicked to touch the principle of introducing a mainstream land drainage scheme as part of the new Rural Development Programme.

Quite simply, the Minster is not spending as much time out on the ground with his welly boots on as he should be. The reality is that nothing will generate a higher payback for farmers than improved land drainage. If Ireland is to come anywhere near reaching its Food Harvest 2020 growth targets, improved drainage and the enormous production benefits this will generate, must be at the very heart of the national strategy moving forward.

Over recent months, I have walked land in some of the best farming areas in the country, all f which was in fine fettle a decade or so ago. Unfortunately, it is now a ‘rush paradise’. This shocking state of affairs is a result of the fact that farm drainage systems have been allowed to fall into disrepair. And this is not the fault of farmers: rather it reflects the fact that producer margins have been cut to the bone over recent years. Throw into the mix the series of very wet summers that Ireland has endured over the past decade and it should come as no surprise to the Minister and his advisors that the soil structure on many Irish farms has deteriorated significantly.

But a drainage scheme, in its own right, is only part of the strategy that’s required to fundamentally improve Irish farm output. Grass re-seeding and liming programmes should also be included as part of the soil fertility programme introduced by the Minister. Ireland – North and South – is currently home to the world’s most cutting edge grass breeding programmes. So why can’t Irish farmers have access to this truly international resource at realistic prices?

The issue of committing to improved liming practises really is a ‘no brainer’. Books have been written on this issue by Teagasc staff from Johnstown Castle over the past number of years. All the research carried out confirms two fundamental realities: most Irish soils are now too acidic and the only way of bringing pH values back up to optimal levels is to spread lime.

Back in 1983, 2 million tonnes of lime were applied by Irish farmers. The equivalent figure for 2012 was five hundred thousand tonnes. This is a truly shocking statistic.

This week has seen a host of environmental research bodies warning that the world must take urgent action to reduce the amounts of Greenhouse gases going up into the atmosphere. Is Minister Coveney  not aware of the fact that a commitment to improve Ireland’s drainage, re-seeding  and liming programmes will allow Irish farmers improve  output while, at the same time, cutting back on the amounts of bagged fertiliser they use.

What’s more, a national land drainage programme will help improve employment levels in rural areas. It all seems like a ‘win win’ scenario to me!

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