Minister meets farmers and scientists to discuss research on nutrient management and water quality in Upper Bann

Date published: 26 August 2021

Minister for Environment Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA has visited Katesbridge, County Down to discuss research on water quality, farm and soil nutrient management in the Upper Bann Catchment Research Platform.

Minister Poots is pictured with Dr Rachel Cassidy, AfBI Catchment Scientist and Project lead and Professor Phil Jordan, Chair of Catchment Science, Ulster University

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, Minister Poots said: “It’s most encouraging to hear about the considerable scientific research being undertaken around water quality and some positive findings which are starting to emerge.”

Recently, repeated soil sampling has provided an indication of improved management 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 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 that: “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 involvement in the project, which will contribute to a sustainable future for Northern Ireland farming.”

Water quality measures under the Environmental 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.

Notes to editors: 

  1. There are currently three research sub-catchments within Upper Bann Research Platform, with high-resolution, real-time water quality monitoring stations at the outlets. Two catchments are used to compare water quality and agricultural management in intensively and less intensively farmed landscapes, and provide supporting evidence for the Nutrients Actions Programme and associated Derogation. Water quality monitoring has run alongside a programme of soil testing and farm nutrient management data collection since 2016. 
  2. Research in these catchments and the DAERA soil pilots has shown a strong positive relationship between the proportion of a catchment area above optimum soil test P and river P concentrations at the catchment outlets. Improved soil nutrient management is an important step towards reducing this excess, and improving water quality.(
  3. The research is a collaboration with catchment farmers. Farmers actively participate in the project, and contribute through recording on-farm nutrient management, providing vital feedback on the results of the research and providing experimental sites for researchers and students.
  4. A third sub catchment has recently been established to evaluate the impact of the Environmental Farming Scheme water protection measures.
  5. The EFS, which is currently open for applications until 10 September, offers support for a choice of 2 metre or 10 metre wide riparian buffers which can be planted with of native trees if required to improve bank stability and reduce peak flood flow. 
  6. There are over a dozen other EFS options available in addition to the riparian margins, including creation of new hedgerows, tree planting and biodiversity options. Farmers can select up to 4 options, and if the application is successful, they will be offered a 5 year EFS agreement.
  7. Tranche 5 of the Environmental Farming Scheme Wider Level (EFS) is open for applications until midnight Friday 10 September 2021.
  8. Applications must be submitted via DAERA's online services portal
  9. Follow DAERA on Twitter and Facebook
  10. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office
  11. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours’ service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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