19 May 2022

New advisory service is working with farmers to help improve water quality

New advisory service is working with farmers to help improve water quality

New advisory service is working with farmers to help improve water quality

We are very fortunate in Ireland to have good water quality in comparison to our European neighbours. Water quality concerns our ground water, rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

There has been much investment in farming infrastructure and Agri-Environment schemes designed to protect water and enhance water quality. Having good to high/pristine water quality is a minimum standard that we must maintain so society can benefit from this.

In Ireland, all water policy and management is led by the Water Framework Directive. Under this directive Ireland has been set a target of achieving ‘good status’ for all waters in Ireland. However, despite a lot of good work over the last 20-30 years we are falling short in achieving this target and water quality has remained mainly static with no significant improvement being recorded.

As a result, the Government has decided to adopt a new strategy. This strategy involves a more collaborative approach to facilitate improvements in water quality. The EPA has identified 190 catchments or ‘areas for action’ across the country where the status of the water is at risk of regressing. There are two areas selected in Longford; sections of the Camlin catchment and the Lough Rinn/Lough Forbes catchment that extends into Leitrim.

There are multiple pressures across the areas for action; industry, waste water treatment plants and septic tanks, forestry, agriculture and urban pressures. The ASSAP (Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme) will focus its resources on addressing agricultural pressures.

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The ASSAP is designed to work closely with the farming community in each catchment and is made up of scientists that will assess the streams and advisors who will work closely with farmers providing them with a free and confidential advisory service.

Across the country there are 20 advisors from Teagasc and 10 advisors from the dairy industry on the programme. Farmers can avail of this service within the ‘areas for action’ on a voluntary basis.The Catchment Assessment Teams from the Local Authority Waters Programme will assess the stream to identify the pressures on the stream.

Where an agricultural pressure is identified the farmers in the area will receive the offer of a free farm visit from their ASSAP advisor, either Niall McLoughlin from Lakeland Dairies or Kieran Kenny from Teagasc. The purpose of the visit is to meet with the farmer and assess his farm for any potential issues that may be having an effect on the water quality in the local stream.

In general an advisor will assess the rivers and streams on the farm, a farmer’s farmyard, nutrient management plan and nutrient management practices. He will also look at how pesticides are used and the general farm land management.
At the end of a visit the advisor and farmer will agree on where the farmer should focus improvements or actions, if any are required, on his farm.

The practical advice will be designed to ‘break the pathway’ and prevent nutrients from entering water. There may be a requirement for more significant actions to be undertaken, for e.g. a TAMS application and the existing farmer’s advisor will be required to support this work. A written summary of the advice and actions will be provided and a timeframe for completion agreed between them.

The programme is a collaborative one and this is seen as crucial to ensuring that ASSAP can aid in the collective goal of achieving ‘good status’ for waters in Ireland. Support from the farming organisations has been very strong and this is vital in communicating and informing farmers about the ASSAP programme and its key messages.

It is in every ones interest to work together to improve Irelands overall water quality. This will have many benefits across the local community and will help with achieving Ireland’s obligations under the Water Framework Directive. It will also help to strengthen agriculture by reinforcing our green image as food producers and underpin the future development of sustainable Irish agriculture.

For further information contact your local ASSAP advisor: Kieran Kenny, Teagasc, 094 9620160. Article submitted by Kieran Kenny. 

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