Introduction: Plant nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) are essential for crop production. The implementation of the EU Nitrates Directive into Irish law regulates the management of these nutrients and is aimed at maintaining productivity whilst improving water. The water quality challenges concerning nutrients are chiefly;
- Leaching of N as nitrate from the soil to groundwater which can result in unacceptably high nitrate levels in drinking water supplies
- Surface loss or runoff of soluble forms of N and P from soils or manure, or movement of P enriched soil to drainage channels, ditches or streams which can then cause the eutrophication
Eutrophication is the over-nourishment and subsequent growth of aquatic plants. It can be caused by excessive concentrations of N and P in water and lead to de-oxygenation of sensitive water-bodies, changes in ecological structure and decreases in amenity. Excessive N as nitrate in drinking water supplies can also be toxic above a maximum acceptable concentration.
The implementation of legislation has created significant challenges for the farming sector whereby farmers must comply with S.I. No. 605 of 2017 in order to meet cross compliance requirements for single farm payments and is transposed into the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) regulations.
Our role: The ACP was initiated to provide a comprehensive scientific evaluation of the GAP regulations in Ireland and the catchments are representative of farming in Ireland. As the use of N and P is a farm management and economic concern as well as a concern in the aquatic environment, four component programme tasks are being undertaken with original data collection and assessments. These are:
- assessing how management trends, habits and attitudes are affected by the GAP regulations and what the perceived implications are for farm incomes
- investigating how nutrients at the soil and farm scale are influenced in terms of supply/availability and potential mobilisation to water
- defining the main pathways for mobilised nutrients in each farming catchment
- identifying the load and concentration patterns of nutrients from the catchments, in each river
It is vital that farming stakeholders are fully aware and receptive to the management implications of the legislation and so these tasks are being supported by a Teagasc advisory team in each catchment. The ACP outcomes are continued assessments and recommendations of how effective the GAP regulations are in terms of farm economics and the links between farm management, landscape and water quality.
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