ASSAP - Working with farmers to improve water quality
A couple of years into the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP), working in Priority areas for action across the country to improve water quality, Cathal Somers and Deirdre Glynn, Teagasc Advisors outline the programme details
Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP)
We are now a couple of years into the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP), working in Priority areas for action across the country to improve water quality. We have some improvements within the PAAS which which reflects the great work done by the community.
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 our water bodies. 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 remained mainly static with no significant improvement being recorded.
Free and confidential advisory service
As a start, 190 priority areas for action (PAA) have been selected by the EPA where water quality needs some improvement. There are multiple pressures across the PAA’s such as industry, waste water treatment plants, septic tanks, forestry, agriculture and urban pressures. ASSAP advisors are focused on addressing agricultural pressures in these areas.
20 advisors from Teagasc and 10 advisors from the dairy CO-OP’s are working closely with farmers in a free and confidential advisory service. The aim is to work together in identifying threats to water quality on the farm and develop a plan to put measures in place to reduce nutrient, sediment and other agricultural losses to our waterbodies. Farmers can avail of this service within the PAA’s on a voluntary basis.
ASSAP advisors are supported by a team of catchment scientists from the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO), who assess rivers in in a PAA and identify the main pressures in the waterbody. Where agriculture is the pressure, ASSAP advisors can use this information to provide targeted advice to farmers, ‘the right measure in the right place’.
Both a community and a farmer engagement meeting are held in a PAA when starting work in an area. LAWPRO organise the community meeting to update locals on the water quality and pressures in their area. Following this, ASSAP advisors host a farmer meeting generally on a local farm to discuss the service and how to tackle the agricultural issues in the area.
A Typical Farm Visit
When on a farm visit, the 3 main things ASSAP advisors will discuss with a farmer are nutrient management planning, farmyard losses and land management. The purpose of the visit is to identify issues on the farm that may affect water quality and form a plan, the local knowledge of the farmer plays an important role in identifying solutions.
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 the farm. The practical advice will be designed to ‘break the pathway’ and prevent nutrients from entering water.
Support from the farming organisations for the programme and its collaborative approach has been very strong and this is vital in communicating and informing farmers about the ASSAP advisory service and its key messages. Over the past few years while working with farmers within the PAA’S we have seen some great work undertaken by the farming community. Small changes on a farm, can make a big difference to water quality.