The first Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) interim report has been published by Teagasc and Dairy Sustainability Ireland.

The report focuses on the establishment and implementation of the ASSAP in 2018 and interaction with farmers up until December 31, 2019.

The ASSAP programme is part of a wider government and community effort to improve water quality in 190 selected water bodies around the country by reducing agricultural and non-agricultural pressures.

The ASSAP advisory service is a sectoral/industry-wide collaborative approach to improving water quality in Ireland.

Established as part of Ireland’s second River Basin Management Plan (RBMP), it has adopted a changed philosophy from the regulatory ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach towards a new engagement-based approach with farmers.

The programme is tasked with working on a voluntary basis with farmers and identifying and implementing the ‘right measure in the right place’ on farms located in Priority Areas for Action (PAAs).

This is the first such approach adopted in Ireland and it provides an alternative mechanism to work with the agricultural sector in order to make an improvement in water quality in our streams and rivers and help achieve the Water Framework Directive (WFD) targets.

A free and confidential farm visit from an ASSAP advisor is available to all farmers in a PAA where water quality is at risk from agricultural activity.

To date, the programme has contacted some 1,652 farmers, with 1,168 farm assessments completed by December 31, 2019.

Central to the ASSAP has been the support the programme has received from Government, the dairy industry and the farming sector.

Funding for the ASSAP programme has been provided by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the dairy processing co-ops.

Participating co-ops include: Arrabawn; Aurivo; Carbery; Dairygold; Glanbia; Kerry; Lakeland; North Cork; and Tipperary.

Teagasc is providing 20 advisors and the dairy processing co-ops are providing nine advisors to work with farmers in PAAs.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed welcomed the interim report published today and reinforced the importance of the innovative Government/industry collaborative initiative, which is supported by the farm organisations.

The minister said: “While a new approach to delivering on improvements in water quality, the programme has provided considerable free and confidential agricultural advice to farmers.

Industry involvement in ASSAP is vital to the future sustainability of the programme and in improving water quality in the short term.

Commenting on the ASSAP interim report, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, said: “It is essential that we continue to take strong steps to protect and improve our water quality; by both making river basin management plans and implementing them effectively.

“The ASSAP advisory service is a critically important first step under the plan in supporting farmers to transition to more environmentally sustainable practices.”

Speaking at the launch of the report, Noel Meehan, Teagasc ASSAP manager, said:

Working with farmers is the best way to realise improvements in water quality where agriculture is a pressure.

“The farming community has engaged very positively with the advisors and the science provided by the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO) is helping to focus mitigation actions at farm level that will help to reduce nutrient, sediment and pesticide losses to waters.”