Irish farmers urged to support phosphate plan

Agriculture targeted as largest contributor to eutrophication of rivers, lakes

Irish farmers are being urged to manage phosphorus-containing fertilisers and organic materials more wisely to prevent eutrophication of rivers and lakes. In a series of events around the country, the state farming research body, Teagasc, is promoting the financial and environmental benefits of applying less phosphate to land.

Teagasc's campaign was launched this autumn in response to a government target of reducing phosphate inputs to soil by 10% per year for five years, so halving application rates. A significant proportion of Irish rivers and lakes suffer from eutrophication, which is mainly caused by phosphates rather than nitrates. Agriculture is the largest single contributor of phosphates to soils in Ireland.

Phosphate levels in Irish soils have risen from an average of 0.8 milligrams per litre (mg/l) in 1950 to over 8mg/l in 1991, according to the government. Currently, some 46,000 tonnes more phosphates are applied each year than can be assimilated by soils, it calculates.

As just one of the official bodies responding to the problem, Teagasc is stressing the financial loss to farmers represented by phosphate overdosing. It says that I£25m (Ecu33m) of expenditure each year is unnecessary.

A Teagasc spokesperson told ENDS Daily that the reaction from farmers to its campaign had been "very good". In three weeks 4,000 farmers have attended mass meetings and thousands more are due to attend over the coming weeks.

Demonstrations and open days are ongoing at Teagasc centres. Farmers who join the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) have their soil tested, so Teagasc is building up a good picture of where excess phosphorous is a problem, and it's local advisors can target exactly those farmers who are using the most phosphorus.

Some fertiliser companies have agreed to make products with reduced levels of phosphate. Gouldings, the biggest seller of phosphate fertiliser in Ireland, has agreed to produce lower phosphate products. Fertiliser giant IFI is already marketing a number of low phosphate products.

The Teagasc campaign is also working on reducing phosphates from slurry run off and dairy farm detergents run-off, which could account for half or even more of all phosphate run-off.

Follow Up:
Teagasc, tel: +353 1 668 8188.

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