EPA’s N and P fig­ures sum up sus­tain­abil­ity chal­lenge

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COMMENT - Stephen Cado­gan

One of the bits of bad news in the 2010-2015 En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Wa­ter Qual­ity in Ire­land report is a d e cl i n e i n t h e n u m b e r o f rivers largely unim­pacted by hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties.

We have only 21 of these so- called “pris­tine” rivers com­pared to over 500 in the late 1980s.

How re­al­is­tic is it to ex­pect to find more rivers largely unim­pacted by hu­man ac­tivi t i e s , o ve r s i x years in a c o u n t r y r e c o ve r i n g f ro m re­ces­sion, aim­ing to de­liver 100,000 jobs, and ex­ceed­ing t h at a m b i t i o n , by a l m o s t 90,000 ad­di­tional peo­ple at work, bring­ing un­em­ploy­ment to its low­est level since 2008?

Ob­vi­ously, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) sets a high stan­dard. It has to, with the Euro­pean Union ul­ti­mately calling the tune with its Wa­ter Frame­work Di­rec­tive (WFD). Mean­while, the Food Wise 2025 Strat­egy part of our econo m i c r e c o ve r y c a l l s for in­creas­ing the value of pro­duc­tion from our farms by 65%, to al­most € 10 bil­lion; in­creas­ing the value of agri­food ex­ports by 85%, to €19bn; and cre­at­ing 23,000 ad­di­tional jobs in the agri-food sec­tor.

T h e E PA s a y s n u t r i e n t losses from agri­cul­ture and do­mes­tic waste­water are the pri­mary rea­sons why the wa­ter qual­ity ob­jec­tives of the WFD will not be met.

T h a t ’ s a b i g wo r r y f o r farm­ers in the con­text of the Gov­ern­ment’s on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Euro­pean C o m m i s s i o n o n I re l a n d ’ s Ni­trates Ac­tion Plan ( NAP), which is de­signed to pre­vent pol­lu­tion from agri­cul­tural sources, in line with Ire­land’s EU Wa­ter Frame­work Di­rec­tive obli­ga­tions to pro­tect and im­prove wa­ter qual­ity.

If these ne­go­ti­a­tions do not go well, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion can bring our agri­cul­tural ex­pan­sion to a halt. That is what the Com­mis­sion did in the Nether­lands this year, read­just­ing the coun­try’s Ni­trates Ac­tion Plan and thus forc­ing Dutch dairy farm­ers to re­duce the num­ber of dairy cows to the level they had in July, 2015. Such harsh treat­ment is less likely for Ire­land, where the EPA’s report on Ir­ish wa­ter con­cludes there has been lit­tle o ve r a l l c h a n g e i n wa t e r qual­ity in the six years to the end of 2015. Nev­er­the­less, this is in­ter­preted as a fail­ure to meet the planned na­tional tar­get of 13% im­prove­ment in wa­ter sta­tus, and a fail­ure to pre­vent de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of wa­ter sta­tus at hun­dreds of wa­ter bod­ies, “can­celling out” im­prove­ments in a sim­i­lar num­ber of wa­ter bod­ies in other parts of the coun­try. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion noted ni­trate lev­els from agri­cul­tural sources de­creas­ing in Ire­land in the 2008-2011 pe­riod, but agri­cul­ture re­main­ing a sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure, with some agri­cul­tural in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion planned.

These notes were in the En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­ple­men­ta­tion Re­view pub­lished ear- lier this year, which said ni­trates were, in con­trast, a big prob­lem need­ing at­ten­tion in Bel­gium, Den­mark, Fin­land, France, Ger­many, Lux­em­bourg, the Nether­lands, Slo­vakia, and the UK.

The Com­mis­sion said in its En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­ple­men­ta­tion Re­view that Ire­land needed to en­sure “the reg­is­tered im­prove­ment of wa­ter qual­ity as re­gards ni­trate pol­lu­tion is not un­der­mined by the planned agri­cul­tural ex­pan­sion”.

Now comes the news from the EPA that up­ward trends in to­tal ni­tro­gen are be­ing seen in sev­eral es­tu­ar­ies since 2010, in­clud­ing the Ban­don, Black­wa­ter, Boyne, Nore, Slaney and Tolka es­tu­ar­ies. Phos­pho­rus con­cen­tra­tions i n r i ve r s a p p e a r to be rel­a­tively sta­ble na­tion­ally In the Black­wa­ter, ni­tro­gen in­puts de­clined from 1999 to 2011, but this de­cline has now r e ve r s e d , w i t h a ve r a g e ni­tro­gen in­put dur­ing 2013– 2015 32% greater than in 2010– 2012. The phos­pho­rus in­put dur­ing 2013–2015 is 29% greater than in 2010–2012. The Ban­don es­tu­ary ni­tro­gen in­put de­creased un­til 2010, but had jumped by 48% in 2013–2015, with phos­pho­rus in­put ris­ing 68%.

It’s a warn­ing farm­ers must heed, while hop­ing the Ni­trates Ac­tion Plan re­mains un­changed, leav­ing the in­dus­try to get on with tack­ling the very dif­fi­cult chal­lenge of sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural ex­pan­sion. Cor­rin Mart first wean­ling sale Imokilly plough­ing match at Mo­geely, Co Cork North Cork IFA ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing, Cor­rin Mart, Fer­moy, 8.30pm West Cork IFA ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing, Park­way Ho­tel, Dun­man­way, 8.30pm

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