An expansion of Ireland’s Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP) and the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) are needed in order to increase the action farmers can take to address water quality, the Nuffield Ireland conference heard on Friday.

Outlining her research on the best ways to encourage farmers to prioritise on-farm action for water quality, Nuffield scholar Aoife Feeney called for an expansion of current programmes available to farmers and the establishment of knowledge transfer groups dedicated to promoting action for water quality.

Feeney made a number of recommendations, including that:

  • The right funding mechanisms need to be established to ensure continued support through extension and education services for farmers to improve water quality.
  • Knowledge transfer groups focused on water quality and biodiversity (rather than production system) need to be established at catchment scale.
  • Farmers need to take ownership of catchment groups and lead the change on water quality by encouraging one another.
  • Bridging the gap between farmers and local communities through joint catchment projects will help reduce a blame culture and encourage uptake of action on both sides.
  • Expansion

    Feeney told the Nuffield conference attendees in Co Carlow that the existing catchment-based approach used in Ireland is highly effective, but in order to expand this and achieve better results, farmers need to take ownership of local projects and show leadership.

    “Ten farmers taking one action is better than one farmer taking 10 actions,” she noted, adding that peer-to-peer learning and sharing of knowledge will drive the uptake of action more quickly.

    Feeney, a policy officer in agriculture, nature and food quality for the Netherlands embassy, warned that while the nitrates derogation cut will be a challenge, there is an even bigger one to come.

    “The biggest challenge is that under the EU water framework directive, all water bodies must achieve at least good or high ecological status by 2027, just three years away, while the Food Vison 2030 targets require driving production and achieving the goals set out by government,” she pointed out.

    “Currently, just 56% of Irish waterbodies meet the objectives of the water framework directive.”