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

The second Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) interim report was published today, Monday, 4 October. The ASSAP programme is a key part of a wider government and community effort to improve water quality in 190 selected priority areas for action (PAA’s) around the country by reducing agricultural and non-agricultural pressures.

The report, from Teagasc and Dairy Sustainability Ireland, focuses on the continued provision of the ASSAP advisory service and interaction with farmers up until the 31st December 2020.

Progress was made on identifying issues in PAA’s and the implementation of actions on farms with 1,810 farms assessed in total and 391 follow up farm visits conducted. This is despite the impact the Covid 19 pandemic had on the implementation of the programme in 2020 due to restrictions on farm visits.

Diffuse losses of phosphorus (P), sediment and nitrogen (N) to waters continue to dominate as water quality pressures. The loss of P through overland flow, nutrient management, buffers and livestock access to watercourses were identified as key issues contributing to the pressures on waters.

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, Charlie McConalogue TD welcomed the publication of the second ASSAP interim report and stressed the importance of the continuing Government/industry collaboration in helping to drive water quality improvements. The Minister added that “improving water quality in Ireland is an important part of a sustainable agricultural industry and the ASSAP is helping farmers to adopt practices and behaviours that will deliver increases in water quality’’.
Minister McConalogue continued; “ASSAP, it's farmers and advisors have taken a real leadership role in improving water quality and it is a genuine road map to drive further improvements in the area. “ 

Commenting on the ASSAP interim report, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD said that “While we have seen some water quality improvements, overall the quality of our natural water is deteriorating – primarily due to pollution of our rivers from phosphorus and nitrogen.  Our response requires a change from the ‘business as usual’ approach.  Everyone involved must adopt a sincere collaborative effort if we are to meet this urgent challenge.  The ASSAP programme is an innovative example of Government, industry and farmers working together to find practical solutions at farm-level to protect and enhance our natural water’s quality and biodiversity’’.

Pat Murphy, CEO Kerry Dairy and Co-Chairman of the Dairy Sustainability Forum, commented that “the ASSAP programme shows that a whole of Government, whole of sector approach to tackling water quality issues is key to delivering water quality advice directly to farmers so as they can adapt their farming practices and minimise impacts on streams and rivers’’. He confirmed Dairy Industry funding support for ASSAP, and said this will be increased, as part of industry’s ongoing commitment to working collaboratively with Government and with farmers to improve water quality, and in addition he said that Co-ops and Processors are implementing and expanding their own farm support sustainability programmes to assist farmers to address climate and wider sustainability challenges, as part of a structured programme to improve sustainability.

Speaking at the publication of the report, Noel Meehan, Teagasc ASSAP Manager said; “farmers and the farming organisations have continued to engage very positively with the ASSAP advisors. We continue to work closely with farmers and to support them in putting ‘the right measure in the right place’ so that they can play their part in delivering water quality improvements’’.

Carol McCarthy, Catchments Team Manager with LAWPRO added that “the catchment teams have continued to follow the science to identify pressures in the PAA’s and this is providing the relevant information to the ASSAP advisors to help them identify issues on farms impacting the water body. The process is continuing to provide excellent data that is helping to improve our understanding of catchment science and management’’.

The ASSAP interim report is available on the Teagasc website at https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2021/assap-interim-report-2.php