ASSAP bid to improve water quality under way

Meetings with farmers and communities are going on around the country as part of the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP), a new service to work with farmers to help improve water quality.

In Ireland, all water policy and management is led by the Water Framework Directive, which sets a target in Ireland of achieving ‘good status’ for all waters.

Over the last 20-30 years, water quality has remained mainly static. As a result, the Government has adopted a new strategy which involves a more collaborative approach to facilitate improvements in water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified 190 catchments or ‘areas for action’ across the country where the status of the water is at risk of regressing.

There are multiple pressures across the areas for action; industry, waste water treatment plants and septic tanks, forestry, agriculture, and urban pressures.

What is the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP)?

The ASSAP is a new government-industry collaborative initiative running from 2018 to 2021.

The programme offers a free support and advisory service (from 20 Teagasc and 10 dairy co-op advisors) and participation is voluntary. Its aim is to improve water quality through working with farmers.

Where will the ASSAP be available?

The EPA has identified 190 catchments or ‘areas for action’ across the country where the status of the water is at risk of regressing. These are located throughout Ireland covering all soil types and farming enterprise.

These can be viewed on the www.catchments.ie website.

Why is there a need for the ASSAP?

Under the Water Framework Directive, Ireland has been set a target of achieving ‘good status’ for all waters in Ireland.

Water quality has remained static in the last number of years despite the huge investment made by the state and by private industry, including farmers.

ASSAP is part of a new national approach which encompasses the whole community and aims to work with all sections of society to improve water quality in Ireland for all our benefit.

Working together to improve Ireland’s water quality will have many benefits across local communities, and will help to achieve Ireland’s Water Framework Directive obligations.

It will also help to strengthen agriculture by reinforcing our green image as food producers, and underpins the future development of sustainable Irish agriculture.

How will the ASSAP work?

The ASSAP is designed to work closely with the farming community in each catchment and is made up of scientists from the local authority catchment assessment teams that will assess the streams, and advisors who will work closely with farmers, providing them with a free and confidential advisory service.

Farmers can avail of this service within the ‘areas for action’ on a voluntary basis.

What advisory service will the ASSAP provide?

Three main areas that will be looked at on farms are:

- Improved nutrient management with more targeted use of slurry and fertiliser.

- New approaches to land management to reduce nutrient losses in critical source areas.

- Better farmyard management and practices.

The teams of scientists (Catchment Assessment Teams) assess streams to identify the pressures on them.

Where an agricultural pressure is identified, farmers in the area receive the offer of a free farm visit from an ASSAP advisor.

The purpose is to meet with the farmer and assess his farm for any potential issues that may have an effect on the water quality in the local stream.

In general, an advisor will assess a farmer’s farmyard, nutrient management plan and nutrient management practices, use of pesticides and his general farmland management.

At the end of a visit, the advisor and farmer will agree on where the farmer should focus improvements or actions, if any are required, on his farm.

The practical advice will be designed to ‘break the pathway’ and prevent nutrients entering water.

Examples of such measures include riparian margins along streams, fencing off of cattle access to streams, more suitable siting of troughs and feeders, and improved use of fertilisers and slurries (timing and location and rates of application, etc).

There may be a requirement for more significant actions, such as a TAMS application, and the existing farmer’s advisor will be required to support this work.

A written summary of the advice and actions will be provided, and a timeframe for completion agreed.

Are the farm visits and consultations confidential?

Yes, all interactions between farmer and advisor are completely confidential and non-regulatory.

The role of the advisor is to provide support and advice to the farmer.

Who is supporting the ASSAP?

Funding and support from the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and Dairy Sustainability Ireland, has allowed formation of the Catchment Assessment Teams and ASSAP teams that will progress the programme on the ground.

Support from the farming organisations for the programme has been very strong.

Where can I get more information?

Check out the www.teagasc.ie/environment/water-quality/farming-for-water-quality-assap/ website.

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