The Future Farmyards event was hosted by Tipperary dairy farmer Graham Harding, a new entrant to dairy farming since the abolition of quotas. Roisin McManus, a Teagasc Walsh Scholar based out of the Teagasc Nenagh office, organised the event as part of her masters degree, in which she aims to help improve farmers’ knowledge surrounding protecting water quality within the farm gate through targeted organic manure storage.
Gillian Delehanty, an agricultural scientist with Tipperary County Council, one of the few councils who have a designated agricultural scientist on their staff, was on hand to share some of the common issues the council sees day to day regarding water quality issues on farms.
“A lot of our inspections tend to be for complaints purposes. We get a lot of complaints every year through the public, anglers and fisheries organisations. The majority of complaints are in relation to slurry spreading and everything that goes with it.”
Gillian highlighted three areas on a farm that prove the most problematic – soiled yards, silage pits and inadequate dung facilities.
“Silage pits are the bane of my life – I’d love to be able fix them all. I have found that lately, quite a number of them that were built with farm waste management grants in 2008 are falling apart. I don’t know why. I suspect it could be to do with humongous loaders and tractors that contractors have now, but there are cracks all over them. I’m surprised that these silage pits that were built to grant spec are becoming damaged and it may be that they are being put in in a rush without concrete curing properly.
“Effluent channels for silage are another problem – blocked channels, overflowing effluent and the diversion trap. The slab we are on now, while it’s not slurry, it is not clean, and all this sediment is ending up in rivers and carrying mud and dirt and phosphorus along with it. If you have a flow off a dirty silage pit going to a diversion trap and that is going straight to a river or stream or dream, it creates problems.
The majority of complaints are in relation to slurry spreading and everything that goes with it
“It’s a real horrible, grey area in the nitrates regulations and trying to manage them properly. If they can go towards some sort of sediment trap, as we understand that farmers can’t have tanks for an open silage pit, that would be better.
“Farmyard manure is an issue, with a lot of farms not having a farmyard manure pit. I don’t know a farmer who doesn’t need one. You can save yourself a lot of hardship by building one, where your dung is rotting away and there is an effluent channel leading off it.”
Maintaining correct buffer zones
Later in the day, Teagasc ASSAP adviser Fiona Doolin talked to the 80 or so farmers present on the required buffer zones for chemical and organic manures to reduce nutrient loss to water bodies. “The conditions of the derogation going forward is directly linked to water quality. Let nobody go away from this walk today and think that water quality doesn’t impact them – it does. You need to ensure that when you go out on fields spreading slurry and dung, that you’re getting the maximum that you can get out of it.
"The more you get out of it, the less risk there is of it ending up in a river or stream. The value of slurry is very clear – every 1,000 gallons of slurry coming out of those tanks is probably close to €50 to €55 in value.”
Dolan used the analogy of buffer zones as a safety belt, that when farmers were spreading fertilisers and an issue such as unexpected heavy rainfall occurred, the buffer zone would prevent accidental runoff to watercourses.
A buffer of 5m, equivalent to many farm roadway widths, should be maintained for spreading chemical and organic fertilisers, with this increasing to 10m for the two weeks at the beginning and end of the opening period.
Regarding spreading close to wells, Dolan encouraged farmers to find out where neighbouring wells were and maintain a buffer zone of 25m away from all domestic and farm water sources.