Hit enter to search or ESC to close

Some 250 dairy farmers, and industry and political stakeholders, gathered for a major water quality event hosted by Lakeland Dairies on the award-winning Fitzpatrick family farm in Lisryan, Granard, Co. Longford.

The Lakeland Dairies event - Farming for a Better Future: Protecting our Waters - showcased the proactive steps that derogation farmers like Eugene Fitzpatrick are successfully taking to enhance and protect water quality, a critical aspect of sustainable farming practices for the future. The Fitzpatrick family are well recognised for their commitment to high-quality dairy production and environmental stewardship. They previously won the Lakeland Dairies Milk Quality Award and have also represented the co-op at the Kerrygold / NDC Quality Milk Awards.

The gathering highlighted the broad economic and social benefits of the dairy industry, linked to current and future sustainability and protection of the environment.

Speakers included Dr. Leanne Roche from the Department of Agriculture’s Water Quality Division; Eddie Burgess from Teagasc’s Agricultural Catchment Programme and Dr. Joe Patton, Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer with Teagasc, and speakers from Lakeland Dairies’ technical and advisory teams. They provided insights into the current status of water quality and the innovative measures being implemented by the sector to preserve and protect the environment, including significant carbon reduction initiatives achieving demonstrably positive results.

The event stressed the economic and social imperatives of retaining the Nitrates Derogation for Ireland. The derogation supports agricultural productivity and competitiveness in Ireland's unique pasture-based, outdoor-grazing system, which is essential for farm family incomes and the wellbeing of rural economies and communities.


Niall Matthews, Chairperson of Lakeland Dairies, emphasised the co-op's dedication to improving water quality across its catchment area.

"Our commitment is unwavering. We have invested in numerous programmes and projects to support our farmers and ensure the sustainability of our practices and I know that this reflects the unstinting commitment of all co-operatives and the agricultural community across Ireland.

“The entire foundation of our world-class dairy industry is built on protecting and enhancing our water quality. As a co-op and as an industry, we are constantly striving to make improvements to our water quality, which is already good by EU standards. We are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to drive water quality improvements with the ultimate aim of retaining the derogation.”

Strongly advocate 

Niall Matthews urged attendees, especially those in influential positions including public representatives, to advocate strongly for the continuation of the Nitrates Derogation.

“Now is the time for action; we must continue to promote the future sustainability of our high-quality, grass-based dairy production system and not simply take matters as others might seek to present them to us. This is a matter for our Government and elected representatives in Europe to fully understand that they must protect and ensure the future of Irish agriculture which is fully committed to sustainability and the preservation of our environmental credentials.”

“The potential impact for the rural economy is unfathomable were the derogation to go. Farmers were the originators of the circular economy – money that comes into the farm is spent and invested locally. The dairy industry is projected to be worth some €17bn to the national economy and this would be greatly diminished were we to lose the derogation.”

Matthews said that Lakeland Dairies has committed five full-time positions to the ASSAP programme and has co-funded research projects focusing on nutrient efficiency and sustainable farming practices, within the co-operative’s environmental, social and governance strategy Pathway to a Better Future, underpinned by incentives and advisory programmes for milk producers. Lakeland Dairies has also worked with Dairy Industry Ireland and Teagasc to deliver the recently announced €60m Farming for Water (European innovation Partnership), and with ICOS in support of its sustainability and bio-economy initiatives.

The event successfully highlighted the critical role of dairy farming in local economies and its effects on the economic landscape. It also underscored the importance of collaborative efforts to meet water quality targets and the need for a realistic timeline to measure improvements effectively.

Economic imperative 

Niall Matthews concluded, "Ensuring the economic viability of dairy farming is crucial not only for the present but for the future generations as well. Farmers deserve fair compensation for their hard work, comparable to any other profession requiring similar dedication. Dairy farming fuels significant economic activity, creating jobs on farms and in related sectors such as milk processing, transport, and local services. This creates a multiplier effect, traditionally the backbone of our rural economy, supporting local businesses. With the stringent regulations under the nitrates derogation, our farmers have adopted advanced practices that once seemed overly ambitious but are now part of everyday farming life. Without the economic powerhouse that is dairying rural Ireland would face significant challenges.

“Lakeland Dairies continues to lead by example, demonstrating the viability of sustainable dairy farming and the essential nature of industry support through initiatives like the Nitrates Derogation. We must all be proactive, work collectively towards water quality targets, and at the same time highlight a realistic timeline required to see our efforts deliver results. I am confident that Irish farmers have a shared commitment to the benefits of environmental farming, as they have had this for hundreds of years past and will continue to do so for hundreds of years into the future. That also requires firm ground to be provided by all our leaders and policy makers in support of this unequivocally important agenda for Ireland.”