A Waterford Farmer testimonial on the ASSAP service
In this week two of the Sustainability Series, Cathal Somers reports on the Agricultural Sustainability Support & Advisory Programme (ASSAP), working in Priority areas for action across the country to improve water quality. We learn about the focus of a Waterford dairy farmer and about Kick Sampling
John Landers is a dairy farmer in Waterford, finishing 90% of what’s born on the farm. Farming beside the Comeragh Mountains, the river Colligan runs through Johns land and he is very keen to ensure his work does not impact on the rivers water quality.
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 and 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.
The Kick Sample – how catchment scientists identify the health of a river (Philip Murphy, LAWPRO)
Catchment scientists working with the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) support ASSAP advisors by assessing water quality in the 190 priority areas for action across the country. These are targeted areas where additional actions are needed to protect or improve water quality in the local area. Catchment scientists work to narrow down what the main pressures and pinch points are in a catchment and suggest where the most value from additional actions could be achieved. Where agriculture is identified as pressure ASSAP advisors rely on such information and advice provided by the catchment scientists.
Generally, at ASSAP farmers meetings catchment scientists are invited to tell farmers about agricultural and other non-agricultural pressures on water quality in their local area and demonstrate how they carry out a kick sample. Farmers always love to see how the catchment scientists carry out the kick sample which they use to assess the water quality of a local river as it’s amazing to see the abundance of life in their rivers.
A kick sample acts as an indicator of water quality in a local river, as opposed to a sample of water analysed in a lab which is a single result from one day. The kick sample looks at the type of invertebrates (or bugs) living in the river and depending on the type and number of specific invertebrates found, determines the water quality of the river.
A net is placed on the floor of the river and the catchment scientist disturbs the bottom of the river with their boot upstream of the net, this action releases the invertebrates and they flow into the net. This action is repeated a number of times for a couple of minutes and the contents of the net is then placed into a white tray. Once in the tray, the invertebrates are identified and counted.
A number of invertebrate species such as Mayfly and Stonefly are pollution sensitive and will not live in rivers where water quality is in poor or in decline. However other species such as Gammarus and Blackfly larvae are pollution tolerant, this means they are more adapted to staying in more polluted conditions. Ideally catchment scientists looks for a balance of not too many pollution tolerant invertebrate species and enough pollution sensitive species, indicating a sign of good water quality.
Based on the result of a kick sample and other measurable factors, rivers are classed into 5 status categories called Q values,
We are aiming for a minimum of good status in all our rivers.
If you missed the first article in the Sustainablity Series (Week 1)- ASSAP - Working with farmers to improve water quality you can view it here