ASSAP – an advisory service to work 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 costal 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 the whole community 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 declined slightly over the past few years.
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 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.
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. There are 20 advisors from Teagasc and 10 advisors from the dairy processing co-op’s on the programme. Farmers can avail of this service within the ‘areas for action’ on a voluntary basis.
A team of scientists from the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO), will assess the streams to identify the pressures on the water. Where an agricultural pressure is identified the farmers in the area will receive the offer of a free farm visit from an ASSAP advisor. 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, use of pesticides and his/her 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 put ‘the right measure in the right place’ and prevent nutrients from entering water. A written summary of the advice and actions will be provided to the farmer and a timeframe for completion agreed.
The programme is a collaborative one and this is seen as crucial to ensuring that the ASSAP can aid in the collective goal of achieving ‘good status’ for waters in Ireland. The funding and support received from the DAFM, DHPLG and Dairy Sustainability Ireland has allowed the formation of LAWPRO and ASSAP that will progress the programme on the ground.
Support from the farming organisations for the programme 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.
Eimear Connery, Teagasc, Midleton, Co. Cork. 087-9053198
Ciara Donovan, Dairygold
Terry O’Mahony, Kerry Agri
Darren Deasy, North Cork Co-Op