MINISTER for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots, has visited Katesbridge to discuss research on water quality, farm and soil nutrient management in the Upper Bann Catchment Research Platform.
The Agri Food and Bio Sciences Institute (AFBI) has been carrying out research and monitoring in the Upper Bann catchment for DAERA over many years to support the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP) and associated derogation. More recently it has included the Soil Sampling and Analysis Scheme and now the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS).
The Minister discussed the research results with the AFBI scientists and their Ulster University partners and viewed one of the automated water quality monitoring stations.
Speaking during the visit, Mr Poots said: “It’s most encouraging to hear about the considerable scientific research being under-taken around water quality and some positive findings which are starting to emerge.”
Recently, repeated soil sampling has provided an indication of improved man-agement as a result of regular soil testing in two catchments. In 2017 AFBI provided all participating farmers with full farm soil sampling and delivered both tabulated and map-based results and recommendations for nutrients and lime. Following a LiDAR scan of the catchment AFBI also produced runoff risk maps highlighting areas at greatest risk of nutrient loss during rainfall events in the catchments. Re-analysis in 2021 assessed the changes in on-farm nutrient management, soil status and water quality.
The Minister met with farmers and said: “I was very pleased by the positive comments from farmers who are participating in the project. As a result of the soil analysis and nutrient management advice provided by AFBI, farmers are growing more, better quality grass and saving on chemical fertiliser costs. They are farming more efficiently and sustainably. It is also encouraging that we are already seeing a small but steady improvement in water quality.”
Across the 700 fields repeat sampled there has been a reduction in the numbers of fields with excessive levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) or sub-optimal pH, and more fields are now at optimum pH, P, K and magnesium (Mg) statuses. Over the period farms have shown a more efficient use of phosphorus through more informed management.
The Minister concluded by saying: “As we move forward this scientific evidence is critical in assisting with the development of policies and support measures.
“I commend the farmers for their involve-ment in the project, which will contribute to a sustainable future for Northern Ireland farming.”
Water quality measures under the En-vironmental Farming Scheme are also being implemented by farmers in the Upper Bann catchment and these are co-ordinated by the Rivers Trust under an EFS Group project.