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Farming for Water Quality

Teagasc, in collaboration with the Dairy Processing Co-Ops and the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO), are running a Water Quality Week from Monday 22nd March to Friday 26th March 2021. The purpose of the week is to provide water quality focused information and advice to farmers to help minimise losses of nutrients, sediment and pesticides to water from their farming practices.

The week will cover a broad range of topics and is available to farmers and the public, primarily through short videos posted on digital media platforms, Teagasc website and local print media. Each day is dedicated to a particular theme looking to explain a range of water quality problems and provide practical advice and solutions to farmers.

Monday | TuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday  

Five factsheets to help farmers maintain and improve the quality of water bodies in Ireland, have been launched by Teagasc as part of the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP). View them here

Monday March 22nd 2021

LAWPRO explore the importance of water quality to farmers and explain how water quality is measured and where the public can access information on the streams and rivers of Ireland. Videos will include the following;

Tuesday March 23rd 2021

Teagasc and Co-op ASSAP advisors provide information on nitrogen with the help of researchers from Johnstown Castle. Information includes how nitrate interacts with soil and what farmers can do to minimise diffuse nitrate losses form their farms. Videos will include;

Wednesday March 24th 2021

The Wednesday discussion is on diffuse phosphorus (P) and sediment losses to waters and how farmers can ‘break the pathway’ of P and sediment losses by putting the right measure in the right locations on farms.

Thursday March 25th 2021

Protecting water from pesticide losses and Environment Schemes

Today's focus is on pesticide use on farms and how these can impact streams and rivers and also drinking water supplies. The roles that agro forestry and wetlands can play in helping to protect and improve water quality are also addressed.

Friday March 26th 2021

Farmyards and Summary of Key Messages

The final day explains the importance of good farmyard management practices as these play a vital role in minimising point source losses of nutrients. There is also an opportunity to tune into the weekly Teagasc Signpost Webinar for additional information and discussions on the topics covered by water quality week.

Teagasc acknowledge the support of:

Housing of livestock 

Livestock housed over the winter period need facilities that are fit for purpose and have adequate storage capacity for the statutory number of weeks. Claire Mooney, Teagasc ASSAP Advisor, has some important guidelines here on the management of winter housing to prevent nutrient losses

Livestock housed over the winter period need facilities that are fit for purpose and have adequate storage capacity for the statutory number of weeks (see table below). Farmers should ensure that their housing facilities are designed and used in a manner that minimises the potential impact on water quality. The following are some important guidelines on management of these facilities:

Slatted sheds and slurry tanks

  • Slatted sheds are designed to house a certain number of livestock - do not exceed this number, both for slurry storage and animal welfare reasons
  • Prevent water from entering tanks from roof, yard or adjoining land
  • Check for leaks in slurry storage facilities including lined lagoons
  • Ensure the capacity of slurry tanks is, at a minimum, sufficient to meet the slurry storage requirements for your county. For further information on calculating your slurry storage requirement please go to                 DAFM Nitrates Explanatory Handbook
  • Ideally, there should be a significant buffer of weeks additional slurry storage to reduce the need to empty tanks in poor weather and ground conditions
  • Ensure that all water troughs are not leaking

For slurry storage requirements for your county see below:

Loose housing and farm yard manure (FYM) storage

  • Loose (straw bedded) sheds are designed to house a certain number of livestock, do not exceed this number, both for FYM storage and animal welfare reasons
  • Ensure that appropriate controls are in place to collect runoff from pens
  • Always use sufficient straw (or other bedding) in pens
  • Ensure the capacity of farm yard manure stores are sufficient and meet the minimum FYM storage requirements for your county
  • Ensure there is adequate collection and storage facilities for seepage from the FYM store
  • Minimise water ingress from rainfall and clean water areas.
  • A roofed FYM store greatly reduces the amount of seepage that needs to be collected.

Open Yard Feeding

  • Ideally open yard feeding is to be discouraged because all rainfall must now be collected as it mixes in with the slurry. Ensure that you have sufficient storage for all this extra slurry generated by the winter rainfall for your area


Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) funding is currently open. There are a number of TAMS schemes farmers can avail of help fund animal housing and storage including the Animal Welfare, Safety and Nutrient storage Scheme (AWNSS), Dairy Equipment Scheme (DES) and Low Emission Slurry Spreading Scheme (LESS).

Minimise soiled water 

Soiled water is defined in the Nitrates Directive as water from concentrated areas, hard standing areas, holding areas for livestock and other farmyard areas where the water is contaminated by livestock faeces/ urine, silage effluent, chemical fertilisers, dairy or vegetable washings. Read more here

What is Soiled Water?

Soiled water is defined in the Nitrates Directive as water from concentrated areas, hard standing areas, holding areas for livestock and other farmyard areas where such water is contaminated by contact with any of the following substances: 

  • livestock faeces or urine
  • silage effluent
  • chemical fertilisers
  • washings such as vegetable washings, milking parlour washings or washings from mushroom houses
  • water used in washing farm equipment.

Soiled water must have a biochemical oxygen demand of less than 2500mg/l or a dry matter content of less than 1% (10g/l).

Clean water from roofs and unsoiled paved areas should be diverted away from soiled yards & prevented from entering storage facilities for slurry etc.  All clean rainwater chutes and downpipes need to be maintained in good working order to take clean water away from soiled areas & slurry storage facilities.

Storage Requirements

Storage tanks for soiled water must have enough capacity to store all soiled water likely to arise on the holding during a 10 day period for tanks built up to 2015, and 15 days for tanks built since 1st Jan 2015.

Land Spreading

Soiled water (not slurry) may be land spread throughout the year provided soil & weather conditions allow (always check weather forecast & soil moisture deficit before spreading any type of manure).  Land spreading soiled water when the forecast is good, on the driest fields, away from water courses, at a low rate and choosing a different field every time where possible reduces the risk of loss. Soiled water should not be applied in excess of 50,000 litres/ha over any 42 period or at a rate exceeding 5mm/hr if applied by irrigation.

Why is Soiled Water an issue for water quality?

Soiled water is an issue for water quality because of the nutrients and sediment it carries. These have a negative impact on the ecological life in watercourses. The main nutrients are Nitrogen and Phosphorus which enrich the water causing plant and algal growth. These plants disrupt the natural ecology of the river system.  Sediment has a negative impact on rivers because it carries nutrients with it and also physically clogs up the spaces on the bed of the stream where fish spawn. Soiled water can be lost to rivers via surface runoff or down into the groundwater network.

Mitigation Advice

It is important to minimise the amount of soiled water to be dealt with by diverting water that falls as rain away cleanly to a suitable out fall. All gutters & downpipes should be kept in good working order.  Soiled water may also be minimised by roofing the collection areas there by reducing the volume to be collected.

Watch this video on storing and controlling soiled water on your farm

For more information on protecting water quality visit the water quality section of the website here

Farmer testimonial Waterford

John Landers has a dairy farm beside the Comeragh Mountains in County Waterford. The river Colligan runs through John's land, it is one of 190 priority areas for action (PAA’s) where water quality needs some improvement.

On his dairy farm in County Waterford John Landers finishes 90% of the animals born on the farm. John is very keen to ensure his work does not impact on the water quality of the river Colligan which runs through his land.  

The Colligan river is one of 190 priority areas for action (PAA’s) selected as part of the Agricultural Sustainability Support & Advisory programme (ASSAP) where water quality needs some improvement.

As John is in one of the PAA’s he received a letter to invite him to a farmers meeting hosted by ASSAP advisors to discuss the free, confidential & voluntary advisory service that ASSAP offers. He was interested in working with an ASSAP advisor to develop a sustainability plan for his farm and to focus on improving water quality, so he arranged for the Waterford ASSAP advisor to visit his farm.

After a walk of the farm discussing nutrient management planning (NMP), farmyard and land management, a plan was made focusing on what actions would benefit John’s farm. The areas identified to work on were;

  • reseeding
  • restricting animal access to the river
  • placement of hedges to block runoff pathways
  • use of protected urea
  • developing a fertilizer plan based on soil testing.

Many of the areas where John is focusing his attention will not only bring environmental benefits but improve production on the farm also.

John's goal is to become as sustainable as possible, increasing nutrient use efficiency and cutting back on chemical nitrogen application whilst maintaining grass production targets.

Silage pits bales & effluent storage facilities

Silage effluent is a highly polluting liquid and can cause fish kills in watercourses/rivers and contaminate wells if not collected, stored and land spread properly. It is important to examine and repair silage pits and collection channels when pits are empty to ensure safe storage.

Silage pits – slabs and walls - need to be structurally sound to ensure ensiling is completed safely and effluent is not lost to the environment. Silage effluent is a highly polluting liquid and can cause fish kills in watercourses/rivers and contaminate wells if not collected, stored and land spread properly. Silage effluent collection channels and tank storage must be capable of managing the volume of effluent generated. Slab and channels must be leak proof and all silage effluent must be collected and safely stored.  If the pit is not fit for purpose, cease using until all repairs are completed. 

When silage pits are empty is the time to examine the slab and channels to see what maintenance and repairs are needed before the pit is used again.

Inspect / Repair slab -Clean slab thoroughly (power wash) to identify any problems.    Defects or problems should be remedied before silage making commences.

Making silage

It is important that you know how much silage your slab is capable of storing. If your pit is designed to store 50 acres of silage at normal yield then that is all that should be stored in the pit. A lot of the problems with effluent arise from over filling the slab. Where capacity is insufficient additional silage should be stored on another slab or made into round bales.

When cutting silage aim to wilt for 24 hours before ensiling. This will reduce the volume of silage effluent produced. All effluent should enter the channels under the cover of the silage polythene and the edge of the ensiled grass should not extend onto or over any channel. The open space should be maintained by placing a plastic drainage pipe in the channel. Ensure effluent is diverted to an effluent tank. Depending on how wet the grass is at ensiling the volume of effluent generated can range from 0 – 350 litres of effluent per tonne of grass.

Where a suitable wilt is not possible due to wet weather it is advisable to provide additional drainage pipes to help get the liquid away. For example, additional pipes could be laid at the butt of clamp walls or for long clamps additional pipes could be laid across the pit. These will help relieve the pressure build up from the effluent and reduce the possibility of the pit slipping. To prevent effluent from flowing out over silage walls in the first few days it is important not to pile the grass too high over the walls and to slope the grass back at 45˚ from the top of the walls

Land spreading of silage effluent. When land spreading silage effluent dilute the effluent with one part water/slurry to one part effluent. Do not spread if rain is forecast in the next 24 hours. Do not spread within 5m of any watercourse, 10m where field slope exceeds 10%, 20m from lake/main river or 25 – 200m well/public water supply.  

Round Bale Storage

Where round bales are made in wet conditions then these bales can generate silage effluent. The effluent from round bales is treated the same as from silage pits and must be collected and stored in same way. It is recommended not to store bales greater than 3 bales high as this will lead to more effluent being generated due to weight pressure and also for farm safety reasons.

David Webster, Teagasc ASSAP Advisor has more information in the below video

ASSAP As Gaeilge

Ar mhaithe le sláinte an phobail i gcoitinne, is den riachtanas é, go bhfuil ard-chaighdéan uisce againn. Chun é seo a chinntiú, tá feirmeoirí fud fad na tíre, i gcomhairle le ASSAP, ag comhoibriú chun an t-uisce agus an timpeallacht a chaomhnú.

Ar an drochuair níl an caighdeáin uisce chomh maith is a d’fhéadfadh  sé a bheith. Tá clár ag na h-údarais aitiúla uisce a thógann samplaí ó na bealaí uisce chun an caighdeáin a mheas. Ó na samplaí seo is feidir leo a rá a bhfuil an tuisce glan nó salach. Má tá an t-uisce truailithe is féidir a aithint céard iad na cúiseanna. Anuas ar seo, má thuigtear ón aiseolas go bhfuil gá dea-chleachtais feirmeoireachta a chur chun cinn, ansin tugtar cuireadh do na feirmeoirí freastal a dheánamh air chruinniú poiblí nó aonarach de réir mar is gá.

De ghnáth, le linn cuairt feirme, pléitear na bealaí praicticúla is fearr chun bainistíocht a dhéanamh ar an talamh, ar chlós na feirme agus ar scaipeadh leasú. Go minic, chun cloí le dea-chleachtas aontaítear ar rudaí simplí, mar shampla, a chuinntiú go bfuil sconsa nó claí ceart ag cosaint na bealaí uisce, go bhfuil an clós feirme glan agus nach scaiptear leasú feirme nó leasú saorga ró-ghar do na bealaí uisce.

To ASSAP i gContae na Gaillimhe ag obair sa abhantrach Owenriff, ina measc siúd tá an loch i Maigh Cuilinn; Ballyquirke, chomh maith le Ross Lake agus Parkyflaherty.