The second Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) interim 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.
Notes from WFD National Technical Implementation Group minutes (Feb 2020)
ASSAP (Noel Meehan)
o ASSAP are making steady progress with 1247 farm visits and assessments made, and 80 farmer meetings in 68 PAAs.
o There has been a very high level of engagement (96%) although this is expected to slip slightly in future because initial contact has been made with existing Teagasc clients. 90% of farmers who engage have agreed to implement measures.
o 75% of the pressures are from diffuse sources. The main issue is phosphorus reaching watercourses via overland flow on saturated soils and sedimentation which has been found to be a greater issue than expected. There is generally poor implementation of nutrient management plans. Moving drinking water access points and installing stream fencing are among the most challenging measures to implement, with a 50% refusal rate, because of the costs, prospect of a future grant, and/or properties being rented.
o Where new buffer margins are recommended by ASSAP in a PAA, the area inside the fence remains eligible for the basic payment scheme which is a significant recent change that should help to provide an incentive.
o The issues around data protection have been resolved but require a legislative amendment so they can be implemented.
o The focus for the coming months is to concentrate on revisiting farmers to assess whether the measures have been implemented.
o ASSAP advisors are exchanging knowledge and cross-pollinating with other Teagasc advisors. For example, 160 discussion groups have had ASSAP advisor input and there has been integration and training with the other advisors