Tuesday October 6th, 2020 Water Blog

Intensive Agriculture

 

On the 28th of September Ella McSweeney wrote an article in The Guardian,  addressing the issue of agriculture and water pollution [1]. She tells us that Ireland is experiencing a water pollution crisis. Sewage treatment is part of the problem with half of urban wastewater treatment plants failing to meet minimum EU standards, while raw sewage from >77,000 people in Ireland pollutes the environment every day.

The problem arises because of phosphorus and nitrogen – two nutrients that enter the environment due to our activities. These nutrients can result from the greater intensification of agriculture that has been encouraged in Ireland since 2010. Government policy is focused on intensification and increasing production of milk and beef.  Food Harvest 2020 [2] promised an increase in milk production of 50% but considerations in relation to waste, fertiliser and chemical use was not evident.  Therefore we are left with large farms with high production levels making life for smaller more sustainable farms almost impossible. Also, the reputation of Irish agriculture is greatly damaged. Farming is seen as a big producer of greenhouse gases and a significant player in water pollution. There are some great initiatives by smaller farmers to try to demonstrate how sustainable farming can be done in a cooperative way. These should be encouraged and incentivised.

Our citizen science project, BACKDROP[3] has shown phosphate inputs to the River Liffey from a variety of sources also. Nutrient pollution in Ireland must be managed better for protection of our river and lake water quality and also our coasts.

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/28/weve-crossed-a-threshold-has-industrial-farming-contributed-to-irelands-water-crisis

[2] https://www.agriculture.gov.ie/media/migration/foodindustrydevelopmenttrademarkets/agri-foodandtheeconomy/foodharvest2020/2020FoodHarvestEng240810.pdf

[3] https://dcuwater.ie/backdrop/

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