Following the release of a report into water quality by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this morning (Wednesday, April 14), one farm organisation has argued that recent improvements “need to be acknowledged”.

According to today’s report, nitrogen levels are too high in almost half of Irish rivers and a quarter of groundwaters.

However, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) has said that, while challenges remain for water quality, it was important that recognition be given to various initiatives being taken at individual farm level to improve the situation.

“To listen to some commentators, one could easily get the impression that farmers are not making efforts to improve water quality and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Pat McCormack, the ICMSA’s president, highlighted: “Over the last number of years, there has been a growing focus on water quality and other environmental issues at individual farm level and at industry level.”

He cited a number of agri-environmental sustainability measures and schemes that contributed to improved water quality and other environmental indicators.

“There are challenges that farmers will tackle but there are also positives, including 89% of rivers having satisfactory BOD [biochemical oxygen demand] values; 71% of rivers having satisfactory phosphorus levels; 53% of rivers having satisfactory nitrogen levels; and, if compared to our EU counterparts, Ireland is in a good position,” McCormack argued.

“ICMSA is concerned that the efforts of the agriculture sector are not being acknowledged and recognised… More regulation is not the answer.”

He noted that programmes such as Teagasc’s Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advice Programme (ASSAP) are “delivering results without regulation”.

The ICMSA president argued that the focus should be on “working with farmers on practical measures to further improve water quality through a new agri-environment scheme and avoiding excessive regulations that are impractical and will not deliver the desired results”.

“Challenges remain but progress is being made. This needs to be acknowledged and working with the agricultural sector is the way forward, rather than a hammer approach of regulation,” McCormack concluded.