Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) Pippa Hackett has announced a call for proposals for a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on water quality.

EIP projects that focus on reducing losses of phosphorus, nitrogen, sediment and pesticides to water from agricultural lands are sought.

This call focusses on providing a voluntary incentive that will reward farmers who do more for water quality, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue said.

Minister Hackett recently confirmed that a €60 million EIP scheme to support farmers in improving water quality on agricultural lands will be run as a five-year EIP programme from 2023.

The closing date for this call is January 27, 2023.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister of State for Heritage at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan said:

“The project’s focus on nature-based solutions can also be expected to deliver multiple benefits for water, biodiversity, flood attenuation and climate mitigation and adaptation.”

Projects could promote the adoption of innovative best practice in nutrient management, the application of nature-based natural water retention measures (NWRM) and other suitable measures, he added.

Improving water quality is a key part to protect our natural environment, and we need to take a coordinated response to address the pressure that agriculture can place on water quality, Minister Hackett said.

Minister McConalogue added that, from farmers to policymakers, everyone is committed to the continued improvement of water quality and water courses across the country.

EIP on water quality

The need for the water EIP arose out of the experience of the second river basin management cycle, according to the DAFM.

Both the Local Authority Waters Programme, and the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme identified a gap in support for farmers implementing targeted water protection measures.

The main causes of the decline in Ireland’s water quality are the ongoing losses into water of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment from farmland; inadequately treated wastewater; and physical impacts on water bodies.

Climate change, population growth and urbanisation are each adding to the pressures on water resources and water services infrastructure, according to the DAFM.

The EIP initiative is co-funded by the European Commission and the Irish Government as part of Ireland’s Rural Development Programme, and will be continued under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plan.

In this case, the DAFM will fund farmer actions under the successful EIP, while the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will fund the operational group’s administrative costs.

“Our departments have already worked well together on Ireland’s 5th Nitrates Action Programme, which came into effect earlier this year and contains a number of new and strengthened measures to protect and improve water quality.

“In addition, Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan has an important role to play in reducing the losses of nutrients and other sediments from farmland to water by incentivising farmers to do more to improve water quality,” Minister Hackett said.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has contributed €10 million to the EIP in support of these water quality ambitions.