Maintaining the status of waters defined as high-/good-quality and improving the status of moderate quality waters will be integral to safeguarding future agricultural practices including the nitrates derogation.

This view was a key point of focus at the recent launch of the Better Farming for Water campaign.

Led by Teagasc, the campaign was developed under the direction of Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue.

The minister requested Teagasc to “lead a multi-actor (all stakeholders) water quality advisory campaign to deliver clear, simple and positive messages to enhance farmers, as well as the broader agri-food industry’s understanding of the agricultural pressures on water quality and the need for improvement”.

The seven-year campaign launched by Teagasc, in collaboration with farm sector stakeholders, seeks to improve the quality of “every single waterbody”.

It follows hot on the heels of the Farming for Water European Innovation Partnership (EIP) project, which was launched in March with funding of €50m.

It also aims to build on work through programmes such as the Agricultural Catchments Programme (ACP), Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP), Waters of Life, Blue Dot Catchments, Slaney Project, Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) and more.

Eight actions

The campaign will focus on eight key actions which are outlined below along with the objective of each:

1 Reduce purchased nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) surplus per hectare.

2 Ensure soil fertility is optimal for lime, phosphorus and potassium.

3 Ensure application of fertiliser and organic manure at appropriate times and conditions.

4 Have sufficient slurry and soiled water storage capacity.

5 Manage and minimise nutrient loss from farmyards and roadways.

6 Fence off watercourses to prevent bovine access.

7 Promote targeted use of mitigation actions, such as riparian margins, buffer strips and sediment traps to mitigate nutrient and sediment loss to water.

8 Maintain overwinter green cover to reduce nutrient leaching from tillage soils.

The first three actions can be combined under a heading of nutrient management, with actions four and five under the banner of farmyard management, while the final three come under the umbrella of land management.

At the launch, Teagasc director Frank O’Mara outlined that the eight actions are not new to farmers or the industry.


The focus of the campaign is to now support and accelerate the adoption of actions on all farms to improve all waterbodies, where agriculture is a significant pressure, to “good” or “high ecological status”.

“If we just rely on what we have been doing to date, we were not going to make any faster progress,” said O’Mara.

Campaign rollout

The new campaign will see eight new roles created within Teagasc. This includes six water catchment co-ordinators, a water quality catchment research officer and a programme manager.

It is expected that the first two years of the campaign will be targeted at addressing and finding local solutions to local problems in the Boyne Valley, Slaney, Barrow/Nore, Suir, Blackwater and Lee/Bandon catchments.

The eight actions will be delivered through six key pillars, as follows.

Stakeholder engagement through multi-actor approach

The objective of pillar one is to develop a multi-actor approach whereby farmers, industry, community and the Government all play their part to support farmers to implement the eight actions for change.

The key actions are:

  • Collaborate with key stakeholder using a multi-actor governance structure.
  • Collaborate closely with existing water-quality programmes.
  • Leverage dairy co-ops links through ASSAP, and links to the meat, tillage and horticulture industries involved in existing programmes (eg Signpost Programme) to support them to utilise their infrastructure for promotion of water quality and distribution of information.
  • Appoint Teagasc water catchment co-ordinators to co-ordinate the efforts of all partners.
  • Engage with LAWPRO and local authorities to identify local water pressures which will guide the “right measure in the right place” approach.
  • Identify “best-practice demonstration farmers” and “community leaders” to influence others.
  • Building awareness by acquisition and utilisation of water quality data

    The objective of pillar two is to build awareness among farmers and other stakeholders of their local water quality, outlining specific challenges facing agriculture.

    The key actions are:

  • Enable farmers and stakeholders to access water quality data/maps for their local area through, eg Pollutant Impact Potential (PIP) maps showing risk areas for losses of N, P and sediment to waters in their local area.
  • Develop AgNav to estimate purchased N (and P) surplus and N use efficiency.
  • Inform farmers and stakeholders of the current practices that may be negatively impacting water quality in their local area.
  • Promote the concept of water stewardship by providing context as to why actions are necessary to improve water quality.
  • Highlight and showcase areas where successful mitigation measures (for N, P and sediment) have been implemented.
  • Share water quality information at farm walks, discussion group meetings, BISS engagement and further afield via social media, public events, and discussions with local communities.
  • Upskilling farmers, students, advisers, teachers and industry professionals

    The overarching objective in pillar three is upskilling farmers, advisers, teachers, industry professionals and students. This will be achieved through the provision of targeted training using a toolbox of tailored solutions and the revision of curricula.

    The key actions are:

  • Provide training to all Teagasc Knowledge Transfer staff (including advisory and education) and partner stakeholders (eg co-ops, farmers, contractors, private consultants).
  • A range of courses from a basic introductory course to an accredited course will be made available to farmers and professionals.
  • Develop specific catchments/waterbody advice factsheets.
  • A campaign manual will be published covering all relevant aspects.
  • Teagasc teaching resources for students will be revised and updated.
  • An impactful Knowledge Transfer programme

    The objective of this pillar is to deliver an impactful Knowledge Transfer programme to support the implementation of the eight actions for change.

    The key actions are:

  • Advisers will co-develop tailored solutions with farmers to address specific water quality issues in their catchment area.
  • Teagasc will offer all clients the opportunity to develop a water quality improvement plan for their farm. This will focus on a number (about five) critically important mitigation measures that are specific to and can be impactful on each farm.
  • At least four public Better Farming for Water campaign events to be held in each of Teagasc’s 12 advisory regions annually in collaboration with the campaign partners.
  • The campaign in each advisory region will be co-ordinated by a lead adviser, ensuring strong collaboration with the ASSAP and Advisory Programme adviser in that region.
  • Prioritise six water catchments in the first two years of the programme as already outlined.
  • The current discussion group network will prioritise improvement in water quality as part of their programme over the next two years.
  • A supporting research programme to identify and develop effective mitigation actions

    The objective here is to align research programmes to investigate the process of nutrient loss, and develop mitigation technologies.

    The key actions include:

  • Enhanced Teagasc capabilities in water quality environmental modelling at field, farm and catchment level.
  • Environment-proof all major farm system research projects/farms with the inclusion of ceramic cups and drainage lysimeters to evaluate the impact of soil type, farming system (cropping/grassland) and pasture/crop composition on nutrient loses.
  • Assess water quality data in all major river catchments to identify where Knowledge Transfer campaigns need to focus.
  • Assess the cost effectiveness of nature-based solutions (constructed wetlands, riparian margins, buffer strips and sediments traps) to reduce the loss of N, P and sediment from Irish farming systems.
  • Investigate the influence of fertiliser N timing, rate, type on varying soil types and farming systems on N leaching.
  • Investigate animal nutrition and management strategies to increase N use efficiency and reduce nutrient losses to waterbodies.
  • Assess current slurry storage capacity and infrastructure on farms to minimise nutrient loss to waterbodies.
  • Design and evaluate new farm infrastructures that mitigate nutrient loss to water.
  • Identify the synergies and trade-offs for wider ecosystem services (greenhouse gases, biodiversity and production) associated with water quality mitigation measures.
  • Integrate learnings from socio-economic and biophysical research to enhance the uptake and performance of management and mitigation practices.
  • Develop strong communications plan with the target audiences

    Here, the objective is to develop a communications plan to deliver clear, positive and simple messaging to enhance the understanding of agricultural pressures on water quality, to reinforce the need for improvement and to highlight positive actions taken by farmers and local communities.

    The key actions are:

  • Communication with a range of industry stakeholders to deliver consistent, co-ordinated and targeted messages.
  • Campaign brand and identity (including a campaign logo) built.
  • The campaign will be included as part of all Teagasc events and showcase events in which Teagasc participates.
  • Regular and timely newsletters distributed to all farmers and maximise usage of social media including webinars and podcasts.
  • Annual research conference/event sharing up-to-date information held in conjunction with a farm walk.
  • A specific section on the Teagasc website will be developed as a repository of all information.
  • The campaign aims to advance the adoption of measures that will improve water quality.
  • It will focus on eight actions, which will be delivered under six campaign pillars.
  • The first two years of the campaign will focus on six catchments but the learnings will be transferable across the country.
  • Eight new staff will be recruited to drive the campaign forward along with input from industry stakeholders.