The advisors will work in a partnership between Teagasc, the co-ops, and the Water and Communities Office (LAWCO).
The 30 will advise farmers on how to protect and improve water quality.
The partnership supports the goals of the Food Wise 2025 strategy, facilitating increased productivity, hand-in-hand with a more sustainable sector. This sustainability and efficiency will be achieved through improved nutrient-management, better-targeted use of fertiliser, better farmyard practices, widespread use of sustainability methods, and new approaches in critical source areas.
Dairy Industry Ireland chairperson, Jim Woulfe, said: “Ireland’s grass-fed dairy production has an excellent reputation worldwide. Maintaining and strengthening that reputation, in the years ahead, is imperative, especially in light of post-quota dairy expansion and for the 18,000 dairy-farming families whose livelihoods depend on milk production. Improved sustainability performance is key to this.’
Professor Gerry Boyle, of Teagasc, said: “The objective of this new approach is to encourage and support behavioural change, to facilitate knowledge transfer, and to achieve better on-farm environmental outcomes.
“These features are regarded as cornerstones of the drive towards better farming practices.”
The programme addresses these challenges and will be a key measure in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government’s final River Basin Management Plan.
Local authorities, with technical support from the Environmental Protection Agency, will identify local risk areas.
Teagasc and the co-ops, working with farm organisations at local level, will then provide advice and support to local farmers in managing on-farm risks.
The programme will draw on the experience and resources of the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the local authorities, the dairy co-ops, Teagasc, Bord Bia, and the farm organisations.
The initiative is part of a new approach to River Basin Management Planning for the 2018–2021 cycle, and it is to include a much-strengthened evidence base to understand the full range of pressures affecting water quality, and measures to deliver improvements.
Over time, the initiative will also address on-farm climate change and biodiversity strategies.
The programme will be jointly funded by both Departments, Teagasc, local authorities and the Dairy Co-ops, on a trial basis for four years, to 2021.
The EPA’s most recent water-quality report showed that only 57% of rivers, 46% of lakes, 31% of transitional waters, and 79% of coastal waters met EU Water Framework Directive requirements, and 91% of groundwater bodies were up to standard.
The directive requires that water bodies, with some exceptions, be restored to good status by 2027.
Ireland did not meet a planned national target of a 13% improvement in water quality from 2009 to 2015.
ICOS said the Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme represents a long-term investment by co-ops to ensure sustainable growth of the dairy sector.
It will work alongside Ireland’s Fourth Nitrates Action Programme, which was recently approved by the European Commission.
This programme allows 7,000 grassland farmers to use up to 250kg/ha of nitrogen in a year.
The re-approval includes stricter criteria for farmers.
They must have sufficient storage for all livestock manure and soiled water produced on the farm; and 50% of the farm’s slurry must be applied by June 15, and, after this date, slurry may only be applied with low-emission equipment.