The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said it will not accept Irish Water charging farmers multiple water-meter tariffs if they have a fragmented farm, and is calling for a customer charge to be implemented instead.

It comes as farmers in Co. Mayo say they are being put at a financial disadvantage under a common billing system that the utility company introduced in October 2021.

The system replaced hundreds of different local authority pricing schemes with the introduction of a standard tariff across the country. However, farmers with numerous parcels of land are now being charged on multiple meters, as well as for the volume of non-domestic water they use.

The IFA told Agriland that it will not stand for this unfair system, and has called for the introduction of a customer charge, whereby farmers would pay one fee alongside paying for the volume of water used.

IFA’s Mayo county chair, Jarlath Walsh said:

“Meters were installed on each plot that had water on it, and they’ve [Irish Water] decided to put a charge on each meter instead of a charge for each customer.

“For a person with smaller amounts of land in different parcels, it is going to be uneconomical for them to have a water connection. You would have to abandon having it on that land if it’s going to cost so much.”

Walsh says the farmers cannot be blamed for having fragmented holdings. This is due to variations in land quality in the west, and historical trends whereby land was divided by the British and the Irish Land Commission.

“That’s no reason for it to be set up on an unequitable basis now. It’s not a good reason for adopting an unfair system and trying to go forward with it,” Walsh said.

The IFA and farmers have the backing of “several local councillors” with whom they hope to meet with in the coming weeks to discuss this issue.

Irish Water has defended the system and has said it notified customers of the changes that came into place well in advance. It said that the decision to implement the charges per water meter was arrived at following extensive consultation.

However, Walsh said that consultation with farmers was not sufficient.

“There wasn’t enough consultation with farmers on this. Farmers would never approve of this approach because the most vulnerable are the ones that are being hit with the most charges here.

“They’re mostly drystock farmers. So, it’s a low-income situation to start with, adding more costs to them is not sustainable,” he said.