ASSAP Factsheets on Farming for Water Quality
The Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) have produced a series of five factsheets to help farmers maintain and improve the quality of water bodies in Ireland. They provide practical tips for farmers to implement which will benefit watercourses on their farms.
Click on the options below to view the various factsheets:
- Nitrate Leaching from Tillage Lands
- Organic Fertiliser Management
- Early Nitrogen for Spring Grassland
- Grassland Herbicide Use and Water Quality
- Riparian Buffer Zones
Nitrate Leaching from Tillage Lands
Cereal crops have been traditionally sown on some of the better free draining soils in Ireland. These crops have a capacity to take up chemical Nitrogen efficiently and convert it into significant yields of grain and straw nitrate to groundwater if the crop has not used all the applied fertiliser N by crop harvest time.
This surplus N is likely to be leached from the soil during periods of higher rainfall in autumn and winter. The challenge in these fields is to ensure the tillage operations achieve maximum returns from applied fertiliser without having any negative impact on water quality.
Farmers can help reduce these losses by carefully managing fertiliser applications and targeted establishment of catch or cover crops. Improved utilisation of chemical nitrogen by tillage crops will improve the financial return to the farmer but also reduce the risk to water quality.
View the factsheet here Nitrate Leaching from Tillage Lands (PDF)
Good management when applying organic fertiliser to grassland is recommended to maximise grass growth, while at the same time minimising nutrient and gaseous losses to water and to the atmosphere. Slurry, Farmyard Manure (FYM), Spent Mushroom compost (SMC) and Poultry Litter are sources of organic nutrients that can damage our environment if not managed correctly.
When spread, organic fertiliser is either absorbed by soil and plants or lost to air and water. By minimising losses through careful application, farmers can retain more nutrients, reduce sward contamination and reduce the fertiliser bill on the farm. This will increase farm profit while helping to protect our air, atmosphere and water quality.
View the factsheet here: Organic Fertiliser Management (PDF)
On grassland farms, having enough grass available for livestock to graze is crucial to ensuring a profitable enterprise. In springtime, applying nitrogen (N) fertiliser will help to provide enough grass as livestock are turned out from winter housing. The timing and rate of fertiliser N application are key decisions to ensure sufficient supply of grass. The challenge is to achieve maximum returns from applied fertiliser N without having negative impact on water quality
There is a high risk of nitrate leaching from free draining grassland fields due to low grass growth rates and high rainfall levels. Farmers can help reduce these losses by carefully managing fertiliser applications and using good Nutrient Management Planning practices. Improved utilisation of chemical nitrogen on grassland will improve the financial return to the farmer but also reduce the risk to water quality.
View the factsheet here: Early Nitrogen for Spring Grassland (PDF)
Herbicide used to control grassland weeds, eg docks, thistles, rushes have the potential to be lost to surface or ground water. These chemicals are used in the management of grassland swards. However, herbicides need to be applied very carefully to prevent losses and impact on water quality and drinking water supplies.
Farmers should try to avoid using herbicides where possible by applying good grassland husbandry techniques. Where herbicide use is necessary, best practice advice should be followed to ensure minimal losses to water.
View the factsheet here: Grassland Herbicide Use and Water Quality (PDF)
The protection of waters; (drains, watercourses, streams, lakes, wells, abstraction points for water supplies, karst features, etc.) from nutrient, sediment and pesticide losses is a key part of the Nitrates regulations. When farmers are applying fertilisers, cultivating and spraying fields they need to be aware that they are required to utilise riparian buffer zones to help minimise any potential losses.
By establishing Riparian Buffer Zones in key locations on your farm, you will help to protect water courses from nutrient, sediment and pesticide losses. Your local ASSAP Adviser is available to advise on the most suitable locations and size of riparian margins for your farm. These areas will not only benefit water quality but also assist in improving biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
View the factsheet here: Riparian Buffer Zones (PDF)
Read more about ASSAP - Farming for water quality here
More information on Water Quality Week is available here
For more information on protecting water quality visit the water quality section of the website here