When Edward Carr took over the family farm in Knockmaroe near Upperchurch in north Co Tipperary from his father, Edmond, more than 20 years ago, they were milking 30 cows. Today, the family is milking 220.
“That number of cows supported a family in those times,” Carr told The Irish Times. “But you have to grow the business to support it and you have to be really efficient. You’re really doing it for the next generation.”
Carr will be followed in the years to come, he hopes, by his son, Eamon, who will become the fifth generation of the family to take charge of the land. But both father and son will face challenges undreamt of by their predecessors.
A portion of the 350-acre farm forms part of the Mulkear river catchment, an area where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said agriculture is causing “significant pressure” to water sources because of phosphorus pollution.
Similar to elsewhere, dairying in Co Tipperary has become the most profitable element in farming since the abolition of quotas in 2015, with the county now having the second highest number of dairy cows in the State.
We can’t be greedy and upset things for generations to come
Conscious of the need to be environmentally aware, the Carrs have joined the Mulkear European Innovation Partnership (EIP) which has brought together 60 farmers across Limerick and Tipperary to improve water quality.
Farmers are paid to carry out measures to stop nutrients from artificial chemical fertiliser and slurry running into the rivers and streams, but the initiative is farmer-led, with participants learning and deciding for themselves the measures that work best on their land.
To date, the EIP has seen 38km of watercourses fenced off from livestock, 2,130 trees planted, 3,300m of buffer zones created, 61 hectares of multi-species swards sown and many over measures undertaken.
The Environmental Protection Agency had graded the Mulkear River’s water as “moderate” in quality, leaving the Carrs convinced that everyone had to act. “We all have to play our part in improving water quality,” Edward says.
“We have all enjoyed the expansion that has gone on, it’s generated an economy that is there in rural Ireland that was never there before, but we can’t be greedy and upset things for generations to come.
“You won’t see the same level of expansion in dairying over the next 10 years, we have to take care of the environment and make sure we’re working towards the betterment of it.”