The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) recently hosted the annual meeting of the North Western European Policy-Science Working Group (PSWG) on nutrient emissions from agriculture at AFBI Hillsborough.
The meeting, which was funded by DAERA, was chaired by Dr Oscar Schoumans from Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands.
Nutrient emissions for agriculture remains a significant environmental issue in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. Phosphorus and nitrogen losses from agriculture impacts on both our freshwater and coastal ecosystem, while ammonia depositions impact on sensitive terrestrial habitats. In 2018 the percentage of river water bodies in Northern Ireland classified as ‘good’ or better fell to 31.3%, with phosphorus input the single biggest cause of this decline.
This PS Working Group meeting provided an important opportunity for national policy makers and scientists from the agriculture and environmental ministries from across North Western Europe to informally discuss the challenges, successes and future plans for the Nitrates and Phosphorus Action Programmes in their respective countries.
The aim of the meeting was to share knowledge, policy and experiences. This will result in improvements in policy development, innovative measures, and support for the implementation of critically important cost effective measures that improve ground water and surface water quality whilst maintaining a balance with agricultural productivity.
The meeting included participants from Denmark, Germany, Belgium (Flanders), England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Netherlands. These countries share similar agriculture, landscape and catchments and have similar environmental challenges such as high nitrogen and phosphorus levels in water systems which ‘over enrich’ lakes and rivers leading to algae blooms and low oxygen levels for aquatic life. The two day meeting saw presentations from each country followed by discussion on key issues identified by the national policy maker.
A central part of the visit was a field trip to local farms to gain a greater understanding of the impact of the nutrient regulations on farmers and management practices. The group visited a CAFRE Dairy Technology Demonstration Farm where talks were delivered by the host farmer and local CAFRE advisor, with a particular focus on animal feed use efficiency.
The second visit was to a farm involved in the AgriSearch Grass Check initiative where the participants received a talk from the host farmer and a representative from AgriSearch on the Grasscheck initiative and the benefits of the Grass Check programme for grassland management. AFBI researchers also gave an update on the catchment research work which AFBI is carrying out in the Upper Bann catchment area.
The farm visits were of great interest to the participants and they appreciated the engagement with the local farmers who kindly hosted them.