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Teagasc and Dairy Sustainability Ireland publish the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) interim report

Teagasc and Dairy Sustainability Ireland have published the first Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) interim report. The report focuses on the establishment and implementation of the ASSAP in 2018 and interaction with farmers up until the 31st December 2019. The ASSAP programme is a key part of a wider government and community effort to improve water quality in 190 selected water bodies around the country by reducing agricultural and non-agricultural pressures.

The ASSAP advisory service is a sectoral/industry wide collaborative approach to improving water quality in Ireland. Established as part of Ireland’s 2nd River Basin Management Plan (RBMP), it has adopted a changed philosophy from the regulatory ‘one size fits all’ approach towards a new engagement based approach with farmers.

The programme is tasked with working on a voluntary basis with farmers and identifying and implementing the ‘right measure in the right place’ on farms located in Priority Areas for Action (PAA’s). This is the first such approach adopted in Ireland and it provides an alternative mechanism to work with the agricultural sector in order to make an improvement in water quality in our streams and rivers and help achieve the Water Framework Directive (WFD) targets.

A free and confidential farm visit from an ASSAP advisor is available to all farmers in a Priority Area for Action (PAA) where water quality is at risk from agricultural activity. To date, the programme has contacted some 1,652 farmers, with 1,168 farm assessments completed by 31st December 2019.

Central to the ASSAP has been the support the programme has received from Government, the Dairy Industry and the farming sector.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD welcomed the interim report published today and reinforced the importance of the innovative Government/industry collaborative initiative, which is supported by the farm organisations. The Minister added that “while a new approach to delivering on improvements in water quality, the programme has provided considerable free and confidential agricultural advice to farmers. Industry involvement in ASSAP is vital to the future sustainability of the programme and in improving water quality in the short term.”

Commenting on the ASSAP interim report, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD said that “As we look to the future, we are faced with increasing pressures on our water resources from a growing population and economy. It is essential that we continue to take strong steps to protect and improve our water quality; by both making river basin management plans and implementing them effectively. The ASSAP advisory service is a critically important first step under the plan in supporting farmers to transition to more environmentally sustainable practices.”

Pat Murphy, CEO Kerry Ingredients and Co-Chairman of the Dairy Sustainability Forum, commented that “ASSAP is a unique example of industry/government/farmer collaboration – all working together to improve water quality. All stakeholders deserve great credit for their efforts thus far, but we are just at the start of the process and achieving improvements in water quality will require on-going and strong commitment to sustainability.”

Speaking at the launch of the report, Noel Meehan, Teagasc ASSAP Manager said “working with farmers is the best way to realise improvements in water quality where agriculture is a pressure. The farming community has engaged very positively with the advisors and the science provided by the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) is helping to focus mitigation actions at farm level that will help to reduce nutrient, sediment and pesticide losses to waters.”

Carol McCarthy, Catchments Team Manager with LAWPRO added that “the science is showing that there is a great variation in pressures and issues across the PAA’s and that the new approach in the second River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) of identifying the appropriate action for the pressure identified is the correct methodology. The expertise being developed through the local catchment assessments will help to provide a better understanding of catchment science into the future”.

 The ASSAP interim report is available on the Teagasc website here ASSAP Interim Report #1