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Seasonal Tips to help Water Quality

28 January 2020
Type Media Article

By Kieran Kenny, Teagasc Soils and Environment Adviser, Castlerea

It is in every ones interest including farmers to work together to improve our water quality. The following tips are intended to help farmers with some water quality issues that may need to be addressed during the Winter and Spring period.

Clean Silage slabs and concrete aprons

Keep silage pits and slabs clean by collecting fallen and waste silage and storing it with Farmyard manure. If concrete is regularly cleaned, the rainwater runoff can be regarded as clean water.

Storing Farmyard Manure/waste silage

FYM cannot be stored on hardcore but it may be allowed to build up under cattle housed in loose houses or stored in another shed. If FYM is stored outdoors on concrete, all seepage and effluent must be collected in a tank with minimum capacity for 18 weeks. From the 16th January, FYM can be field stored provided certain precautions are followed: store in a dry field, in a compact heap at least 20m from a water body. Covering the heap with plastic or tarpaulin will significantly reduce nutrient runoff.

Slurry and FYM application

The open season for spreading organic manures has commenced on the 16th January. However, recent heavy rainfall and saturated soils are making it unsuitable for field work. On heavier soils there is a high risk of nutrient runoff through overland flow. This risk is greater where soils are wet, the soil temperature is low and heavy rain (>10mm) is due within 2 to 3 days. To reduce the risk further lower the application rate, target the driest fields and avoid moderate to steep slopes. It’s important to retain non spreading buffers alongside all water bodies. This distance increases from 5m upwards depending on the type of water body and time of year. Extending the buffer even further should have a more positive impact on the local water body.

Early Fertilizer application

Applying nitrogen fertilizer too early in the spring increases the risk of nitrate leaching through the soil. This has a negative impact on the local groundwater plus a financial loss to the farmer. It is now considered best practice to delay and reduce the first application in the spring. As with organic manures no chemical fertilizer should be used until the soil temperature is above 6 degrees and ensure no heavy rainfall is forecasted for the following 3 days. All dairy and intensive dry stock farmers should now substitute Protected Urea for nitrate (CAN or compounds). Protected Urea is less susceptible to leaching and therefore better for water quality. It is also hugely effective at reducing greenhouse gas and Ammonia losses to the air.

Supplementary feeding and sacrificed paddocks

If you are giving supplementary feeding outdoors to cattle or sheep and creating a sacrificed paddock you are not retaining the land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC). You are also increasing the risks to water quality through nutrient and sediment mobilization into nearby water bodies. This scenario can arise for example, when farmers are feeding fodder crops or when turning animals out early to make room for others. You are expected to frequently move the feeders, reduce the numbers in a group and allow the animals a suitable lye back area. These practices will help to minimize poaching.

Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. They have offices based in Longford Town (Tel: 043 3341021), Roscommon Town  (Tel: 090 6626166) and Castlerea (Tel: 094 9620160). You can find us on Facebook @Teagascroscommonlongford and twitter @teagascRNLD