Agricultural Catchments Programme

Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, staff have been working with 300 farmers across six catchments in Ireland for over ten years.

The ACP was put into place to analyse the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) measures that were implemented under the EU Nitrates Directive.

Plant nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) are essential for crop production. The implementation of the Nitrates Directive into Irish law regulates the management of these nutrients and aims to maintain productivity while improving water quality.

The main water quality challenges concerning nutrients are:

  • Leaching of N as nitrate from the soil into groundwater which can result in unacceptably high nitrate levels in drinking water
  • Runoff of soluble forms of N and P from soils or manure, or movement of P enriched soil to drainage channels, ditches or streams which can cause eutrophication

Eutrophication is the over-nourishment and subsequent growth of aquatic plants. It can be caused by excessive concentrations of N and P in water and lead to de-oxygenation of water-bodies, changes in ecological structure and an overall imbalance. Excessive N as nitrate in drinking water supplies can also be toxic above a maximum acceptable concentration.


The ACP was initiated to provide a comprehensive scientific evaluation of the GAP regulations in Ireland, while the catchments are representative of farming in all of Ireland. The use of N and P is an economic, aquatic environment and farm management concern. Therefore four component programme tasks are being undertaken with original data collection and assessments. These are:

  • Assessing how management trends, habits and attitudes are affected by the GAP regulations and what the perceived implications are for farm incomes
  • Investigating how nutrients at the soil and farm scale are influenced in terms of supply/availability and potential mobilisation to water
  • Defining the main pathways for mobilised nutrients in each farming catchment
  • Identifying the load and concentration patterns of nutrients from the catchments, in each river

It is vital that farming stakeholders are fully aware and receptive to the management implications of the legislation, so these tasks are supported by a Teagasc advisory team in each catchment. The ACP outcomes are continued assessments and recommendations of how effective the GAP regulations are in terms of farm economics and the links between farm management, landscape and water quality.


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