ASSAP Service: A typical Farm Assessment
The ASSAP (Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory programme) is a free advisory service aimed at improving water quality. There are 10 PAA’s (Prioritized areas for action) in West Cork. Lane Giles, ASSAP Advisor, Clonakilty explains what the service provides for the farmer in West Cork
ASSAP advisors are working hard on visiting farms and carrying out assessments with the agreement of the farmer in Caha (north of Mount Gabriel), Glan (North of Dunmanway), Rosscarbery, Clonakilty, Kilkeran, and Lough Fadda/Ownagappul. The remaining four Carrigadrohid, Adrigole, Keel/Foherish and Bandon Estuary will see farm visits before the end of this year as advisors work in collaboration with LAWPRO (Local authority waters programme) staff to focus on tributaries, which are showing evidence of impact from agriculture and are most in need of improvement.
Farmers recognise the fact that losses of nutrients to water is also a financial loss to themselves
One to One Farm Visits
Working with farmers to bring about water quality improvements through one-to-one farm visits has been well received. Farmers are recognising the fact that losses of nutrients to the waters are also a financial loss to themselves. More important, is the recognisable shift in mind-set from farming according to a one size fits all approach to an awareness that each farm is unique and the water coming from it is a precious resource that requires careful farmland, farmyard and farm nutrient management to protect and improve its quality status.
Coastal river catchments: In broad terms, the river catchments on the coast in West Cork are more vulnerable to Nitrogen losses down through the soil to groundwater, with Phosphorus losses to a lesser degree (excess of both nutrients eventually ending up in streams).
Inland catchments: The remaining, inland catchments are more vulnerable to sediment and Phosphorus losses through an overland flow pathway to surface waters.
So what does a typical farm assessment involve?
A typical farm assessment involves:
- Coming up with preventative measures (Mitigation Actions) in conjunction with the farmer’s knowledge of his own farm to identify where nutrient losses can be reduced by careful management.
- A short list of achievable actions are then agreed with the farmer upon which help improve water quality going forward.
- This initial assessment is then followed up to review progress on agreed actions
The loss of nutrients is often as a result of always doing what was always done, without giving due attention to soil type, soil sample results or crop requirements. Getting the nutrient balance right and with care and attention to set back distances from waters, weather forecasts and growth conditions can reduce nutrient losses to water when spreading both fertilisers and slurries.
Some common land management improvements include:
- allowing drains to revegetate to take up nutrients that escape to the water
- regular movements of supplementary feeding points
- fencing bovines out of streams and rivers
- growing catch crops over winter to mop up nutrients and have them available for next year’s crop in the case of tillage farmers.
Common farmyard management improvements include:
- adequate collection and storage of slurry or farmyard manure
- returning of these nutrients back to the fields with the highest requirements
- applying the nutrients when good growing conditions return in spring and the risk of loss to water is low
Most important of all is the farmers own contribution to the overall solution. An open minded approach and an understanding that the farm as an ecosystem in which all elements are connected is key. For example the more biodiversity present on the farm the better the water quality can be. Also the more mindful the farmer is of the environment the more community support and appreciation is there for what they do.
Current advice to protect water quality would be to delay or at least reduce Nitrogen application after first cut silage until grass is actively growing again and capable of taking up nutrients. This reduces the risk of losses to ground water. In general, fertiliser advice is to use little and often, away from watercourses for best crop and environmental outcomes.
Recently we have noticed an increasing desire amongst farmers to understand more about their role in relation to water quality, so they can implement changes on their farms. This motivation together with watercourse fencing requirements for derogation farmers and the continuing work of ASSAP advisors with farmers is showing water quality improvements in places as we work with nature.
Author: Lane Giles is an ASSAP advisor based in the Teagasc Advisory Office in Clonakilty. Along with the Carbery ASSAP advisors, Aoife Feeney and Damien Kingston, they provide a free advisory service to farmers in the 10 ASSAP catchments to help farmers to implement measures to improve water quality on their farms.
Read more here on ASSAP in detail