Irish farming would be in “strong position” versus farming in other EU countries if the water quality issue could be addressed, according to one MEP.

Irish Midlands North-West MEP Colm Markey has said that, at present, water quality is something Irish agriculture is “somewhat vulnerable on”.

Speaking to Agriland recently, the Fine Gael representative said that, if good water quality could be ensured, then that would leave Irish farming with generally good environmental credentials.

“It leaves us in an extremely strong position versus anyone else, particularly in the dairy and beef sectors, because environmentally in others ways we’re ahead in terms of sustainability and efficiency.

“So if we can address that water quality situation to a point where we are best in class, then we are – I won’t say untouchable – but certainly we’re well ahead of everyone else in terms of the environmentally sustainable model,” Markey argued.

He added: “It’s not that Irish farming has a water quality problem any more than anyone else, but if we can address it, it leaves us in a great position.”

The Co. Louth native also addressed the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which, as was reported earlier this year, will be expanded to include more farm installations, including, for the first time, dairy and beef operations.

The proposed changes to the IED will see farms of over 150 livestock units (LUs) require an environmental permit to operate (this figure of 150 LUs can be converted into various numbers of animals, depending on the type of farm enterprise, i.e. one LU does not necessarily equate to one animal).

Markey pointed to a provision in the proposed changes that recognises grass-based systems as “somewhat different”, adding: “I think we have to take advantage of that as much as possible to create a differentiation for a grass-based operation, where ultimately, animals are only inside for a short number of months in the year.”

He suggested that Ireland should look at obtaining “some level of derogation” for animals that spend the majority of the year outside on grass.

Markey also noted that “there’s different discussions about what 150 LUs means, but if it’s 150 as we understand it, that’s essentially 120 cows, and that’s your typical Irish dairy farm”.

The MEP also questioned how much will actually be achieved through a permit system.

“Are you not better off investing the effort in something that would make a tangible difference as opposed to just regulatory compliance, which itself won’t necessarily make any difference,” he said.

Markey argued: “It’s like a lot of other things. It’s going to add a burden without necessarily achieving a whole lot of difference.”

He called for “a practical approach” on solutions such as methane-inhibiting feed additives, low-emission slurry spreading (LESS) and fertiliser usage.

“We should put farming at the centre of finding solutions rather than putting it at the centre of the problem.

“Farmers can be very innovative if you work with them and make it worth their while. They’ll certainly engage more than most in terms of being innovative on solutions… If you look at where the industry is at in terms of methane, fertiliser, LESS and multi-species swards, there’s so many things that the industry has already started on the road on.

“Just give it a chance to try and develop and build those,” Markey argued.