On the farm, water is mainly used as drinking water for livestock, dairy operations, irrigation of crops, and washing and cleaning machinery and yards.  Farming practises also have the potential to impact neighbouring waterways via runoff from farmyards or silage pits or the spreading of slurry during wet conditions or too near rivers or lakes.  Farmers own or manage the vast majority of Ireland’s land and therefore they have an extremely important role to play in helping to improve the environment and to protect water quality – for themselves and the rest of the community who may rely on it for drinking, business and leisure. It is very important that good farming practices in relation to water protection are encouraged by farm advisors, government agencies and farming organisations.

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Some good tips for on farm water use are to:

  • Protect water quality by limiting access of livestock to rivers, streams and lakes
  • Make regular checks for leaks and carry out necessary repairs. This includes visual checks for dripping taps, leaky pipes, hoses and nozzles, and for unusually wet areas around the pipe network.
  • Collect rainwater for cleaning purposes, watering and irrigation or for an emergency fire fighting supply.  This also limits the amount of dirty water to be managed in the farmyard
  • Collect and store organic material, farm chemicals, oils, industrial waste and residues properly, and dispose of using Local Authority dedicated facilities
  • Carry out soil nutrient tests to ensure only fields which really need N and P are spread with slurry or fertiliser
  • Only spread slurry when weather conditions are suitable
  • On land adjacent to waters, use land-spreading methods that ensure slurry does not contaminate water, keeping at least 25 metres back from the river bank or shore
  • Ensure water troughs for cattle do not overflow and carry out regular maintenance
  • On pig and poultry farms check that animals do not cause spillage. Consider changing to better designs to reduce water losses. Wet poultry litter increases the ammonia emitted, and can cause welfare problems for the birds.
  • Consider converting to organic or extensive farming

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There are a number of advantages for applying good agricultural practices:

  • Water conservation reduces costs
  • Rainwater harvesting reduces the volume of dirty farmyard water to be managed.  This minimises the bio-security hazard on your farm
  • Reducing nutrient losses from your land will increase profitability, since it is wasteful and environmentally damaging to apply more nutrients than necessary
  • Water friendly farming reduces the risk of contaminating water supplies – your own and your neighbours
  • A reduction in water pollution will increase water quality, improve aquatic habitats, protect nature, the environment and human health for everyone in your community

For more information on good agricultural practice please see Water Quality and Good Farming Practice leaflet published by Monaghan County Council.

Another useful link is to the Irish Farming Association (IFA) website, Smart Farming: Improve your Farm Returns with better Resource Management.