It’s time for a national land drainage programme

COMMENTRegular travellers in the Irish countryside will be fully aware of the regrettable fact that rushes are fast taking over the landscape in even the driest parts of the country. And I am not the only one to have noticed this unwelcome development.

Numerous industry commentators have highlighted the significant deterioration in ground and soil conditions that have become such a feature of local agriculture over recent years.

And with the climate becoming increasingly wetter, the sad reality is that our drainage infrastructure is no longer fit for purpose. On that basis, the introduction of a drainage scheme, with realistic support levels from government built in, would do wonders in improving crop responses to all inputs while, at the same time giving local precast concrete and contracting businesses a much needed boost. It stacks up as a win:win scenario.

But where will the money come from to fund such a scheme? In my opinion Pillar 2 of the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) should contain provision for the implementation of essential capital development projects, one of which should come under the general heading of improved drainage.

Put it this way, there is nothing coming out of Axis 1, within the current CAP Reform proposals that will benefit production agriculture. Food Harvest 2020 commits Irish agriculture to increasing the output of many sectors by as much as 50 per cent. This will only be achieved by improving our soils.

The implementation of a national land drainage programme would help to improve agricultural output no end while, at the same time, many new jobs in rural areas.

Most farmers take for granted that grass grows well in this part of the world. However, few seem to realise just how unproductive many of our grassland swards actually are. This concerning state of affairs confirms the huge potential there is to increase grass-based output across this island.

And it won’t take cast sums of money to rectify this state of affairs – in fact the opposite is the case. Too many Irish farmers are operating in the dark. Producing grass and silage in the most efficient way possible is the future. But there is a right way and a wrong way of achieving this. The way to minimise input costs and maximise grassland output can be most effectively achieved by implementing a three point plan: improve drainage, adjust soil pH as required and re-seed regularly. Thereafter, it’s a case of letting nature take its own course.

It grieves me to point out that all of these fundamentals have been known about for years. It’s time that Irish agriculture started to act on them.

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