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Managing farm roads to protect water quality

Farm roadways are an essential piece of infrastructure on most livestock farms and in particular dairy farms. Under new Nitrates rules there shall be no direct runoff of soiled water from farm roadways to waters from 1st January 2021. Padraig Fitzgerald, Teagasc Advisor lists the key points involved

New Nitrates Rules from 1st January 2021

Roadways help farmers in achieving high animal performance from pasture based systems by aiding grassland management. Under new Nitrates rules that have come into effect there shall be no direct runoff of soiled water from farm roadways to waters from 1st January 2021.

The aim of the measure is to prevent runoff of sediment and nutrients from farm roadways thereby protecting and improving the water quality. Excess sediment getting into a watercourse can impact on the habitat of the river bed. It can also bring with it excess nutrients such as phosphorous which impacts on the water quality.

Research on dairy farms in Ireland has shown that a dairy cow can deposit up to 8 litres of urine and manure on farm roadways each day. As a result, significant amounts of sediment, animal manures and urine are frequently observed to accumulate on the surfaces of these roadways. Because farm road surfaces tend to be mostly hard and compacted, much of this material simply sits on the road surface where it can be washed off the road following rainfall events. Very often a high rainfall storm event can result in significant levels of sediment and nutrients moving very quickly off farm roads and into rivers and drains.

These new rules apply to all farmers who have farm roadways beside watercourses, rivers, drains or any feature that can carry water.

Some key points to remember when constructing roadways:

  • Camber the roadway away from the stream or drain using a cross fall of 1to 25. Thus diverting the run off towards a field or a paddock.
  • All new roads installed on farms beside watercourses or drains must be 1.5m back from the top of the bank from watercourse or drain.
  • Existing farm roadways running beside a watercourse that are already fenced do not require the 1.5m buffer margin. A good camber away from the watercourse is still required.
  • Moving paddock access >5m from watercourse/drain is also recommended to reduce the possibility of any sediment/nutrient entering watercourse/drain.

Source: Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine (DAFM) Specification on Farm Roadways S199 on www.gov.ie/agriculture

Runoff issues from farm roadways are extremely variable from farm to farm. Each farm is different and one needs to look at things like soil type, stream and drain density on the farm, slopes, roadway condition and herd size when one is to consider a solution to preventing the runoff from farm roads to watercourses or drains.

In this clip, Padraig Fitzgerald, Teagasc Advisor goes through some key points to remember when constructing roadways on the farm

For more information see Water Quality Week