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Socio-Economic Analysis

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Dr Cathal Buckley


The Agricultural Catchments Programme is undertaking intensive monitoring of biophysical indicators in catchments dominated by agriculture. In addition to biophysical monitoring the programme aims to provide socio-economic information on the attitudes and awareness of the farming community to water quality issues linked to agriculture, the measures used to address them and the economic impact (at farm level) of changed agricultural practises that may arise from compliance with relevant water quality regulations. This part of the programme aims explore farmer attitudes to implementation of EU Nitrates based regulations, identify factors influencing adoption of nutrient management best practices, assess farmers willingness to provide ecosystem services linked to water quality as well as the economic impacts of efficient farm and field level nutrient management.


The methodology will include farm level models to quantity the effects of different farm practices and policy instruments relevant to achieving objectives under the Nitrates and Water Framework Directives. This will allow the economic effect of different farm practices and policy measures to be modelled at a farm and catchment scale.

Summary of findings to-date

With the ACP framework, the Q methodology was used to investigate farmer subjective opinions of the operation of the EU Nitrates Directive regulations after the first 4 year National Action Programme phase and explores the level of acceptance and refutation of measures from the view of farmers own knowledge and experience of land stewardship. Results indicate 4 main opinion groups. A “Constrained Productionists” group remain unconvinced about the appropriateness of certain measures from a farm management, environmental and water quality perspective. A second group “Concerned Practitioners” share these concerned but are generally more positive regarding other farm management and environmental benefits accruing from the regulations. A third group, “Benefit Accepters”, indicated quite an environmentalist position and are generally very positive towards regulation implementation and associated environmental and farm management benefits. The final group “Regulation Unaffected” have some concerns but are mostly unaffected by the regulations. Results suggest scepticism remains around the validity of certain measures, especially, in the area of temporal farm practices, however, there is acceptance among some farmers of environmental benefits accruing from the regulations.

Using data generated from a survey of catchment farmer with land adjacent to a watercourse (N=247) the willingness of farmers to adopt a riparian buffer zone was investigated. The research was based on a proposal to install a 10 metre deep riparian buffer zone on a five year scheme and the analysis was based on principal components analysis, contingent valuation methodology and a Generalized Tobit Interval model. Results from this analysis indicated that famers’ willingness to supply a riparian buffer zone depended on a mix of economic, attitudinal and farm structural factors. A total of 53% of the sample indicated a negative preference for provision. Principle constraints to adoption include interference with production, nuisance effects and loss of production in small field systems. Of those willing to engage with supply, the mean willingness to accept based cost of provision for a 10 metre riparian buffer zone was estimated to be €1513 ha-1 per annum equivalent to €1.51 per linear metre of riparian area.

Using National Farm Survey (FADN) data, research was undertaken to investigate whether there is room to reduce inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser applications and imported feeds by exploring the extent to which application rates may have exceeded optimum levels using data envelopment analysis productivity analysis methodology. The investigation concentrates on specialist dairy and tillage farms in the Republic of Ireland stratified by land use potential. Results demonstrate inefficiency in the utilisation of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers across these systems. Average over application of chemical fertilizers ranged from 22.8 to 32.8 kg N ha-1 and 2.9 to 3.51 kg P ha-1 in 2008. Potential cost savings on chemical fertilisers across all systems on average ranged from €38.9 ha-1 to €48.5 ha-1. Additionally, potential cost reductions on imported feeds of €65 to €84 per livestock were indicated for dairy farms versus efficient cohort benchmark farms. Average excess of imported feedstuffs equated to 5.82-7.44 kg LU-1 of N and 0.92-1.17 kg LU-1 of P.

Using National Farm Survey (FADN) data and a multinomial model the willingness of the farming population to import pig and poultry manures was investigated. Results indicate that between 9 and 15 per cent of farmers nationally would be willing to pay to import these manures; a further 17-28 per cent would import if offered on a free of charge basis. Demand is strongest among arable farmers, younger farmer cohorts and those of larger farm size with greater expenditure on chemical fertilisers per hectare and who are not restricted by a Nitrates Directive derogation.

A nationally representative survey of manure application and storage practices on farms (2009) estimated that 52 percent of all slurry was applied between the end of the closed period in January and April 30th in total volume terms. This contrasts with a 2003 survey which found that 35% of slurry was applied in the spring season. Across all farm systems approximately 71 percent of slurry was estimated to be applied to conservation ground (hay/silage), 26 percent to grazing land with the remaining 3 percent applied to maize or tillage crops. These figures indicate a trend toward greater slurry application on land used for livestock grazing compared to the 2003 survey where 80 percent of the slurry applications was to hay and silage land and 16 percent was on grazing land. The report also indicates an increasing number of farmers are starting to engage with newer slurry application technologies. A total of 6 per cent of dairy farmers reported using the trailing shoe method of slurry application.

For further information, please contact Dr Cathal Buckley