The Agricultural Catchments Programme is based on a partnership with farmers and other stakeholders and aims to support productive agriculture while protecting water quality. The programme integrates advice and research and operates in small river catchments of 500 to 2,900ha. The programme, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and run by Teagasc, is implemented by a team of researchers, advisers and technicians working closely with farmers. The programme advisers provide an intensive advisory and planning service to farmers in the catchments with support from their colleagues locally and nationally. Their purpose is to improve the profitability of the farms and help the farmers to implement the Good Agricultural Practice measures contained in the National Action Programme. The programme’s research and technical staff work with the farmers and advisers to evaluate the environmental and economic effects of the measures.

Recent Submissions

  • Assessments of Composite and Discrete Sampling Approaches for Water Quality Monitoring

    Cassidy, Rachel; Jordan, Phil; Bechmann, Marianne; Kronvang, Brian; Kyllmar, Katarina; Shore, Mairead (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2018-04-12)
    Achieving an operational compromise between spatial coverage and temporal resolution in national scale river water quality monitoring is a major challenge for regulatory authorities, particularly where chemical concentrations are hydrologically dependent. The efficacy of flow-weighted composite sampling (FWCS) approaches for total phosphorus (TP) sampling (n = 26–52 analysed samples per year), previously applied in monitoring programmes in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and which account for low to high flow discharges, was assessed by repeated simulated sampling on high resolution TP data. These data were collected in three research catchments in Ireland over the period 2010–13 covering a base-flow index range of 0.38 to 0.69. Comparisons of load estimates were also made with discrete (set time interval) daily and sub-daily sampling approaches (n = 365 to >1200 analysed samples per year). For all years and all sites a proxy of the Norwegian sampling approach, which is based on re-forecasting discharge for each 2-week deployment, proved most stable (median TP load estimates of 87–98%). Danish and Swedish approaches, using long-term flow records to set a flow constant, were only slightly less effective (median load estimates of 64–102% and 80–96%, respectively). Though TP load estimates over repeated iterations were more accurate using the discrete approaches, particularly the 24/7 approach (one sample every 7 h in a 24 bottle sampler - median % load estimates of 93–100%), composite load estimates were more stable, due to the integration of multiple small samples (n = 100–588) over a deployment.
  • Gain in Nitrogen Yield from Grass-Legume Mixtures is Robust Over a Wide Range of Legume Proportions and Environmental Conditions

    Suter, Matthias; Finn, John; Connolly, John; Loges, Ralph; Lüscher, Andreas (Elsevier BV, 2015-08-19)
    Global food security is currently challenged and requires sustainable intensification of agriculture through initiatives that include more efficient use of nitrogen (N) and increased protein self-sufficiency through home-grown crops. Such challenges were addressed in a continental-scale field experiment conducted over three years, in which the amount of total nitrogen yield (Ntot) and the gain in N yield in mixtures as compared to grass monocultures (Ngainmix) was quantified from four-species grass-legume stands with greatly varying legume proportions. Stands consisted of monocultures and mixtures of two N2 fixing legumes and two non-fixing grasses. The amount of Ntot of mixtures was significantly greater (P ≤ 0.05) than that of grass monocultures at the majority of evaluated sites in all three years. Ntot and thus Ngainmix increased with increasing legume proportion up to one third of legumes. With higher percentages of legumes, Ntot and Ngainmix did not further increase. Thus, across sites and years, mixtures with one third proportion of legumes had 57% higher Ntot than grass monocultures and attained ∼95% of the maximum Ntot acquired by any stand. The relative N gain in mixture (Ngainmix/Ntotmix) was most severely impaired by minimum site temperature (R = 0.64, P = 0.010). Nevertheless, Ngainmix/Ntotmix was not correlated to site productivity (P = 0.500), suggesting that, within climatic restrictions, balanced grass-legume mixtures can benefit from comparable relative gains in N yield across largely differing productivity levels. We conclude that higher N output (Ntot or forage protein per unit area) can be achieved with grass-legume mixtures than with pure grass alone for a given amount of N fertilizer applied; conversely, the same N output can be achieved by mixed swards with less input of N. Therefore, the use of grass-legume mixtures can substantially contribute to resource-efficient agricultural grassland systems over a wide range of productivity levels, implying important savings in N fertilizers and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Functional Land Management for managing soil functions: A case-study of the trade-off between primary productivity and carbon storage in response to the intervention of drainage systems in Ireland

    O'Sullivan, L.; Creamer, Rachel; Fealy, Reamonn; Lanigan, Gary; Simo, I.; Fenton, Owen; Carfrae, J.; Schulte, R.P.O.; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Elsevier BV, 2015-09)
    Globally, there is growing demand for increased agricultural outputs. At the same time, the agricultural industry is expected to meet increasingly stringent environmental targets. Thus, there is an urgent pressure on the soil resource to deliver multiple functions simultaneously. The Functional Land Management framework (Schulte et al., 2014) is a conceptual tool designed to support policy making to manage soil functions to meet these multiple demands. This paper provides a first example of a practical application of the Functional Land Management concept relevant to policy stakeholders. In this study we examine the trade-offs, between the soil functions ‘primary productivity’ and ‘carbon cycling and storage’, in response to the intervention of land drainage systems applied to ‘imperfectly’ and ‘poorly’ draining managed grasslands in Ireland. These trade-offs are explored as a function of the nominal price of ‘Certified Emission Reductions’ or ‘carbon credits’. Also, these trade-offs are characterised spatially using ArcGIS to account for spatial variability in the supply of soil functions. To manage soil functions, it is essential to understand how individual soil functions are prioritised by those that are responsible for the supply of soil functions – generally farmers and foresters, and those who frame demand for soil functions – policy makers. Here, in relation to these two soil functions, a gap exists in relation to this prioritisation between these two stakeholder groups. Currently, the prioritisation and incentivisation of these competing soil functions is primarily a function of CO2 price. At current CO2 prices, the agronomic benefits outweigh the monetised environmental costs. The value of CO2 loss would only exceed productivity gains at either higher CO2 prices or at a reduced discount period rate. Finally, this study shows large geographic variation in the environmental cost: agronomic benefit ratio. Therein, the Functional Land Management framework can support the development of policies that are more tailored to contrasting biophysical environments and are therefore more effective than ‘blanket approaches’ allowing more specific and effective prioritisation of contrasting soil functions.
  • Groundwater nitrate reduction versus dissolved gas production: A tale of two catchments

    McAleer, E.B.; Coxon, C.E.; Richards, Karl G.; Jahangir, M.M.R; Grant, J.; Mellander, Per-Erik; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (Elsevier BV, 2017-05-15)
    At the catchment scale, a complex mosaic of environmental, hydrogeological and physicochemical characteristics combine to regulate the distribution of groundwater and stream nitrate (NO3 −). The efficiency of NO3 − removal (via denitrification) versus the ratio of accumulated reaction products, dinitrogen (excess N2) & nitrous oxide (N2O), remains poorly understood. Groundwater was investigated in two well drained agricultural catchments (10 km2 ) in Ireland with contrasting subsurface lithologies (sandstone vs. slate) and landuse. Denitrification capacity was assessed by measuring concentration and distribution patterns of nitrogen (N) species, aquifer hydrogeochemistry, stable isotope signatures and aquifer hydraulic properties. A hierarchy of scale whereby physical factors including agronomy, water table elevation and permeability determined the hydrogeochemical signature of the aquifers was observed. This hydrogeochemical signature acted as the dominant control on denitrification reaction progress. High permeability, aerobic conditions and a lack of bacterial energy sources in the slate catchment resulted in low denitrification reaction progress (0–32%), high NO3 − and comparatively low N2O emission factors (EF5g1). In the sandstone catchment denitrification progress ranged from 4 to 94% and was highly dependent on permeability, water table elevation, dissolved oxygen concentration solid phase bacterial energy sources. Denitrification of NO3− to N2 occurred in anaerobic conditions, while at intermediate dissolved oxygen; N2O was the dominant reaction product. EF5g1 (mean: 0.0018) in the denitrifying sandstone catchment was 32% less than the IPCC default. The denitrification observations across catchments were supported by stable isotope signatures. Stream NO3 − occurrence was 32% lower in the sandstone catchment even though N loading was substantially higher than the slate catchment.
  • Predicting microbial water quality with models: Over-arching questions for managing risk in agricultural catchments

    Oliver, David M.; Porter, Kenneth D.H.; Pachepsky, Yakov A.; Muirhead, Richard W.; Reaney, Sim M.; Coffey, Rory; Kay, David; Milledge, David G.; Hong, Eunmi; Anthony, Steven G.; et al. (Elsevier BV, 2016-02)
    The application of models to predict concentrations of faecal indicator organisms (FIOs) in environmental systems plays an important role for guiding decision-making associated with the management of microbial water quality. In recent years there has been an increasing demand by policy-makers for models to help inform FIO dynamics in order to prioritise efforts for environmental and human-health protection. However, given the limited evidence-base on which FIO models are built relative to other agricultural pollutants (e.g. nutrients) it is imperative that the end-user expectations of FIO models are appropriately managed. In response, this commentary highlights four over-arching questions associated with: (i) model purpose; (ii) modelling approach; (iii) data availability; and (iv) model application, that must be considered as part of good practice prior to the deployment of any modelling approach to predict FIO behaviour in catchment systems. A series of short and longer-term research priorities are proposed in response to these questions in order to promote better model deployment in the field of catchment microbial dynamics.
  • Predicting microbial water quality with models: Over-arching questions for managing risk in agricultural catchments

    Oliver, David M.; Porter, Kenneth D.H.; Pachepsky, Yakov A.; Muirhead, Richard W.; Reaney, Sim M.; Coffey, Rory; Kay, David; Milledge, David G.; Hong, Eunmi; Anthony, Steven G.; et al. (Elsevier, 2015-12-03)
    The application of models to predict concentrations of faecal indicator organisms (FIOs) in environmental systems plays an important role for guiding decision-making associated with the management of microbial water quality. In recent years there has been an increasing demand by policy-makers for models to help inform FIO dynamics in order to prioritise efforts for environmental and human-health protection. However, given the limited evidence-base on which FIO models are built relative to other agricultural pollutants (e.g. nutrients) it is imperative that the end-user expectations of FIO models are appropriately managed. In response, this commentary highlights four over-arching questions associated with: (i) model purpose; (ii) modelling approach; (iii) data availability; and (iv) model application, that must be considered as part of good practice prior to the deployment of any modelling approach to predict FIO behaviour in catchment systems. A series of short and longer-term research priorities are proposed in response to these questions in order to promote better model deployment in the field of catchment microbial dynamics.
  • Variable response to phosphorus mitigation measures across the nutrient transfer continuum in a dairy grassland catchment

    Murphy, Paul N. C.; Mellander, Per-Erik; Melland, A. R.; Buckley, Cathal; Shore, Mairead; Shortle, Ger; Wall, David; Treacy, Mark; Shine, Oliver; Mechan, Sarah; et al. (Elsevier, 2015-04-20)
    Phosphorus (P) loss from soils to water can be a major pressure on freshwater quality and dairy farming, with higher animal stocking rates, may lead to potentially greater nutrient source pressures. In many countries with intensive agriculture, regulation of P management aims to minimise these losses. This study examined the P transfer continuum, from source to impact, in a dairy-dominated, highly stocked, grassland catchment with free-draining soils over three years. The aim was to measure the effects of P source management and regulation on P transfer across the nutrient transfer continuum and subsequent water quality and agro-economic impacts. Reduced P source pressure was indicated by: (a) lower average farm-gate P balances (2.4 kg ha−1 yr−1), higher P use efficiencies (89%) and lower inorganic fertilizer P use (5.2 kg ha−1 yr−1) relative to previous studies; (b) almost no recorded P application during the winter closed period, when applications were prohibited, to avoid incidental transfers; and (c) decreased proportions of soils with excessive P concentrations (32–24%). Concurrently, production and profitability remained comparable with the top 10% of dairy farmers nationally with milk outputs of 14,585 l ha−1, and gross margins of € 3130 ha−1. Whilst there was some indication of a response in P delivery in surface water with declines in quick flow and interflow pathway P concentrations during the winter closed period for P application, delayed baseflows in the wetter third year resulted in elevated P concentrations for long durations and there were no clear trends of improving stream biological quality. This suggests a variable response to policy measures between P source pressure and delivery/impact where the strength of any observable trend is greater closer to the source end of the nutrient transfer continuum and a time lag occurs at the other end. Policy monitoring and assessment efforts will need to be cognisant of this.
  • Future global pig production systems according to the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways

    Lassaletta, Luis; Estellés, Fernando; Beusen, Arthur; Bouwman, Lex; Calvet, Salvador; van Grinsven, Hans J.M.; Doelman, Jonathan; Stehfest, Elke; Uwizeye, Aimable; Westhoek, Henk; et al. (Elsevier, 2019-02-08)
    Global pork production has increased fourfold over the last 50 years and is expected to continue growing during the next three decades. This may have considerable implications for feed use, land requirements, and nitrogen emissions. To analyze the development of the pig production sector at the scale of world regions, we developed the IMAGE-Pig model to describe changes in feed demand, feed conversion ratios (FCRs), nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and nitrogen excretion for backyard, intermediate and intensive systems during the past few decades as a basis to explore future scenarios. For each region and production system, total production, productive characteristics and dietary compositions were defined for the 1970–2005 period. The results show that due to the growing pork production total feed demand has increased by a factor of two (from 229 to 471Tg DM). This is despite the improvement of FCRs during the 1970–2005 period, which has reduced the feed use per kg of product. The increase of nitrogen use efficiency was slower than the improvement of FCRs due to increasing protein content in the feed rations. As a result, total N excretion increased by more than a factor of two in the 1970–2005 period (from 4.6 to 11.1 Tg N/year). For the period up to 2050, the Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSPs) provide information on levels of human consumption, technical development and environmental awareness. The sustainability of pig production systems for the coming decades will be based not only on the expected efficiency improvements at the level of animal breeds, but also on four additional pillars: (i) use of alternative feed sources not competing with human food, (ii) reduction of the crude protein content in rations, (iii) the proper use of slurries as fertilizers through coupling of crop and livestock production and (iv) moderation of the human pork consumption.
  • Incidental nutrient transfers: Assessing critical times in agricultural catchments using high-resolution data

    Shore, Mairead; Jordan, Philip; Melland, Alice R.; Mellander, Per-Erik; McDonald, Noeleen T.; Shortle, Ger; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Elsevier, 2016-03-22)
    Managing incidental losses associated with liquid slurry applications during closed periods has significant cost and policy implications and the environmental data required to review such a measure are difficult to capture due to storm dependencies. Over four years (2010–2014) in five intensive agricultural catchments, this study used high-resolution total and total reactive phosphorus (TP and TRP), total oxidised nitrogen (TON) and suspended sediment (SS) concentrations with river discharge data to investigate the magnitude and timing of nutrient losses. A large dataset of storm events (defined as 90th percentile discharges), and associated flow-weighted mean (FWM) nutrient concentrations and TP/SS ratios, was used to indicate when losses were indicative of residual or incidental nutrient transfers. The beginning of the slurry closed period was reflective of incidental and residual transfers with high storm FWM P (TP and TRP) concentrations, with some catchments also showing elevated storm TP:SS ratios. This pattern diminished at the end of the closed period in all catchments. Total oxidised N behaved similarly to P during storms in the poorly drained catchments and revealed a long lag time in other catchments. Low storm FWM P concentrations and TP:SS ratios during the weeks following the closed period suggests that nutrients either weren't applied during this time (best times chosen) or that they were applied to less risky areas (best places chosen). For other periods such as late autumn and during wet summers, where storm FWM P concentrations and TP:SS ratios were high, it is recommended that an augmentation of farmer knowledge of soil drainage characteristics with local and detailed current and forecast soil moisture conditions will help to strengthen existing regulatory frameworks to avoid storm driven incidental nutrient transfers.
  • Improving the identification of hydrologically sensitive areas using LiDAR DEMs for the delineation and mitigation of critical source areas of diffuse pollution

    Thomas, Ian; Jordan, Philip; Mellander, Per-Erik; Fenton, Owen; Shine, Oliver; O hUallachain, Daire; Creamer, Rachel E.; McDonald, Noeleen T.; Dunlop, Paul; Murphy, Paul N. C.; et al. (Elsevier, 2016-03-12)
    Identifying critical source areas (CSAs) of diffuse pollution in agricultural catchments requires the accurate identification of hydrologically sensitive areas (HSAs) at highest propensity for generating surface runoff and transporting pollutants. A new GIS-based HSA Index is presented that improves the identification of HSAs at the sub-field scale by accounting for microtopographic controls. The Index is based on high resolution LiDAR data and a soil topographic index (STI) and also considers the hydrological disconnection of overland flow via topographic impediment from flow sinks. The HSA Index was applied to four intensive agricultural catchments (~ 7.5–12 km2) with contrasting topography and soil types, and validated using rainfall-quickflow measurements during saturated winter storm events in 2009–2014. Total flow sink volume capacities ranged from 8298 to 59,584 m3 and caused 8.5–24.2% of overland-flow-generating-areas and 16.8–33.4% of catchment areas to become hydrologically disconnected from the open drainage channel network. HSA maps identified ‘breakthrough points’ and ‘delivery points’ along surface runoff pathways as vulnerable points where diffuse pollutants could be transported between fields or delivered to the open drainage network, respectively. Using these as proposed locations for targeting mitigation measures such as riparian buffer strips reduced potential costs compared to blanket implementation within an example agri-environment scheme by 66% and 91% over 1 and 5 years respectively, which included LiDAR DEM acquisition costs. The HSA Index can be used as a hydrologically realistic transport component within a fully evolved sub-field scale CSA model, and can also be used to guide the implementation of ‘treatment-train’ mitigation strategies concurrent with sustainable agricultural intensification.
  • Defining optimal DEM resolutions and point densities for modelling hydrologically sensitive areas in agricultural catchments dominated by microtopography

    Thomas, Ian; Jordan, Philip; Shine, Oliver; Fenton, Owen; Mellander, Per-Erik; Dunlop, Paul; Murphy, Paul N. C.; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (Elsevier, 2016-09-16)
    Defining critical source areas (CSAs) of diffuse pollution in agricultural catchments depends upon the accurate delineation of hydrologically sensitive areas (HSAs) at highest risk of generating surface runoff pathways. In topographically complex landscapes, this delineation is constrained by digital elevation model (DEM) resolution and the influence of microtopographic features. To address this, optimal DEM resolutions and point densities for spatially modelling HSAs were investigated, for onward use in delineating CSAs. The surface runoff framework was modelled using the Topographic Wetness Index (TWI) and maps were derived from 0.25 m LiDAR DEMs (40 bare-earth points m−2), resampled 1 m and 2 m LiDAR DEMs, and a radar generated 5 m DEM. Furthermore, the resampled 1 m and 2 m LiDAR DEMs were regenerated with reduced bare-earth point densities (5, 2, 1, 0.5, 0.25 and 0.125 points m−2) to analyse effects on elevation accuracy and important microtopographic features. Results were compared to surface runoff field observations in two 10 km2 agricultural catchments for evaluation. Analysis showed that the accuracy of modelled HSAs using different thresholds (5%, 10% and 15% of the catchment area with the highest TWI values) was much higher using LiDAR data compared to the 5 m DEM (70–100% and 10–84%, respectively). This was attributed to the DEM capturing microtopographic features such as hedgerow banks, roads, tramlines and open agricultural drains, which acted as topographic barriers or channels that diverted runoff away from the hillslope scale flow direction. Furthermore, the identification of ‘breakthrough’ and ‘delivery’ points along runoff pathways where runoff and mobilised pollutants could be potentially transported between fields or delivered to the drainage channel network was much higher using LiDAR data compared to the 5 m DEM (75–100% and 0–100%, respectively). Optimal DEM resolutions of 1–2 m were identified for modelling HSAs, which balanced the need for microtopographic detail as well as surface generalisations required to model the natural hillslope scale movement of flow. Little loss of vertical accuracy was observed in 1–2 m LiDAR DEMs with reduced bare-earth point densities of 2–5 points m−2, even at hedgerows. Further improvements in HSA models could be achieved if soil hydrological properties and the effects of flow sinks (filtered out in TWI models) on hydrological connectivity are also considered.
  • Sources and Mechanisms of Low-Flow River Phosphorus Elevations: A Repeated Synoptic Survey Approach

    Vero, Sara E.; Daly, Karen M.; McDonald, Noeleen T.; Leach, Simon; Sherriff, Sophie C.; Mellander, Per-Erik; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (MDPI AG, 2019-07-18)
    High-resolution water quality monitoring indicates recurring elevation of stream phosphorus concentrations during low-flow periods. These increased concentrations may exceed Water Framework Directive (WFD) environmental quality standards during ecologically sensitive periods. The objective of this research was to identify source, mobilization, and pathway factors controlling in-stream total reactive phosphorus (TRP) concentrations during low-flow periods. Synoptic surveys were conducted in three agricultural catchments during spring, summer, and autumn. Up to 50 water samples were obtained across each watercourse per sampling round. Samples were analysed for TRP and total phosphorus (TP), along with supplementary parameters (temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and oxidation reduction potential). Bed sediment was analysed at a subset of locations for Mehlich P, Al, Ca, and Fe. The greatest percentages of water sampling points exceeding WFD threshold of 0.035 mg L−1 TRP occurred during summer (57%, 11%, and 71% for well-drained, well-drained arable, and poorly drained grassland catchments, respectively). These percentages declined during autumn but did not return to spring concentrations, as winter flushing had not yet occurred. Different controls were elucidated for each catchment: diffuse transport through groundwater and lack of dilution in the well-drained grassland, in-stream mobilization in the well-drained arable, and a combination of point sources and cumulative loading in the poorly drained grassland. Diversity in controlling factors necessitates investigative protocols beyond low-spatial and temporal resolution water sampling and must incorporate both repeated survey and complementary understanding of sediment chemistry and anthropogenic phosphorus sources. Despite similarities in elevation of P at low-flow, catchments will require custom solutions depending on their typology, and both legislative deadlines and target baselines standards must acknowledge these inherent differences.
  • A sub-field scale critical source area index for legacy phosphorus management using high resolution data

    Thomas, Ian A.; Mellander, Per-Erik; Murphy, Paul; Fenton, Owen; Shine, Oliver; Djodjic, Faruk; Dunlop, Paul; Jordan, Phil; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; et al. (Elsevier, 2016-09-25)
    Diffuse phosphorus (P) mitigation in agricultural catchments should be targeted at critical source areas (CSAs) that consider source and transport factors. However, development of CSA identification needs to consider the mobilisation potential of legacy soil P sources at the field scale, and the control of (micro)topography on runoff generation and hydrological connectivity at the sub-field scale. To address these limitations, a ‘next generation’ sub-field scale CSA index is presented, which predicts the risk of dissolved P losses in runoff from legacy soil P. The GIS-based CSA Index integrates two factors; mobile soil P concentrations (water extractable P; WEP) and a hydrologically sensitive area (HSA) index. The HSA Index identifies runoff-generating-areas using high resolution LiDAR Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), a soil topographic index (STI) and information on flow sinks and effects on hydrological connectivity. The CSA Index was developed using four intensively monitored agricultural catchments (7.5–11 km2) in Ireland with contrasting agri-environmental conditions. Field scale soil WEP concentrations were estimated using catchment and land use specific relationships with Morgan P concentrations. In-stream total reactive P (TRP) concentrations and discharge were measured sub-hourly at catchment outlet bankside analysers and gauging stations during winter closed periods for fertiliser spreading in 2009–14, and hydrograph/loadograph separation methods were used to estimate TRP loads and proportions from quickflow (surface runoff). A strong relationship between TRP concentrations in quickflow and soil WEP concentrations (r2 = 0.73) was used to predict dissolved P concentrations in runoff at the field scale, which were then multiplied by the HSA Index to generate sub-field scale CSA Index maps. Evaluation of the tool showed a very strong relationship between the total CSA Index value within the HSA and the total TRP load in quickflow (r2 = 0.86). Using a CSA Index threshold value of ≥0.5, the CSA approach identified 1.1–5.6% of catchment areas at highest risk of legacy soil P transfers, compared with 4.0–26.5% of catchment areas based on an existing approach that uses above agronomic optimum soil P status. The tool could be used to aid cost-effective targeting of sub-field scale mitigation measures and best management practices at delivery points of CSA pathways to reduce dissolved P losses from legacy P stores and support sustainable agricultural production.
  • Chronic nutrient inputs affect stream macroinvertebrate communities more than acute inputs: An experiment manipulating phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment

    Davis, Stephen J; O hUallachain, Daire; Mellander, Per-Erik; Matthaei, Christoph; Piggott, Jeremy; Kelly-Quinn, Mary; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (Elsevier, 2019-05-07)
    Freshwaters worldwide are affected by multiple stressors. Timing of inputs and pathways of delivery can influence the impact stressors have on freshwater communities. In particular, effects of point versus diffuse nutrient inputs on stream macroinvertebrates are poorly understood. Point-source inputs tend to pose a chronic problem, whereas diffuse inputs tend to be acute with short concentration spikes. We manipulated three key agricultural stressors, phosphorus (ambient, chronic, acute), nitrogen (ambient, chronic, acute) and fine sediment (ambient, high), in 112 stream mesocosms (26 days colonisation, 18 days of manipulations) and determined the individual and combined effects of these stressors on stream macroinvertebrate communities (benthos and drift). Chronic nutrient treatments continuously received high concentrations of P and/or N. Acute channels received the same continuous enrichment, but concentrations were doubled during two 3-hour periods (day 6, day 13) to simulate acute nutrient inputs during rainstorms. Sediment was the most pervasive stressor in the benthos, reducing total macroinvertebrate abundance and richness, EPT (mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies) abundance and richness. By contrast, N or P enrichment did not affect any of the six studied community-level metrics. In the drift assemblage, enrichment effects became more prevalent the longer the experiment went on. Sediment was the dominant driver of drift responses at the beginning of the experiment. After the first acute nutrient pulse, sediment remained the most influential stressor but its effects started to fade. After the second pulse, N became the dominant stressor. In general, impacts of either N or P on the drift were due to chronic exposure, with acute nutrient pulses having no additional effects. Overall, our findings imply that cost-effective management should focus on mitigating sediment inputs first and tackle chronic nutrient inputs second. Freshwater managers should also take into account the length of exposure to high nutrient concentrations, rather than merely the concentrations themselves.
  • Influence of stormflow and baseflow phosphorus pressures on stream ecology in agricultural catchments

    Shore, Mairead; Murphy, Sinead; Mellander, Per-Erik; Shortle, Ger; Melland, A. R.; Crockford, Lucy; O'Flaherty, Vincent; Williams, Lauren; Morgan, Ger; Jordan, Philip; et al. (Elsevier, 2017-03-09)
    Stormflow and baseflow phosphorus (P) concentrations and loads in rivers may exert different ecological pressures during different seasons. These pressures and subsequent impacts are important to disentangle in order to target and monitor the effectiveness of mitigation measures. This study investigated the influence of stormflow and baseflow P pressures on stream ecology in six contrasting agricultural catchments. A five-year high resolution dataset was used consisting of stream discharge, P chemistry, macroinvertebrate and diatom ecology, supported with microbial source tracking and turbidity data. Total reactive P (TRP) loads delivered during baseflows were low (1–7% of annual loads), but TRP concentrations frequently exceeded the environmental quality standard (EQS) of 0.035 mg L− 1 during these flows (32–100% of the time in five catchments). A pilot microbial source tracking exercise in one catchment indicated that both human and ruminant faecal effluents were contributing to these baseflow P pressures but were diluted at higher flows. Seasonally, TRP concentrations tended to be highest during summer due to these baseflow P pressures and corresponded well with declines in diatom quality during this time (R2 = 0.79). Diatoms tended to recover by late spring when storm P pressures were most prevalent and there was a poor relationship between antecedent TRP concentrations and diatom quality in spring (R2 = 0.23). Seasonal variations were less apparent in the macroinvertebrate indices; however, there was a good relationship between antecedent TRP concentrations and macroinvertebrate quality during spring (R2 = 0.51) and summer (R2 = 0.52). Reducing summer point source discharges may be the quickest way to improve ecological river quality, particularly diatom quality in these and similar catchments. Aligning estimates of P sources with ecological impacts and identifying ecological signals which can be attributed to storm P pressures are important next steps for successful management of agricultural catchments at these scales.
  • Phosphorus management on Irish dairy farms post controls introduced under the EU Nitrates Directive

    Buckley, Cathal; Wall, David; Moran, Brian; O'Neill, Stephen; Murphy, Paul N. C.; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland (Elsevier, 08/11/2015)
    The Republic of Ireland was one of a minority of EU member states to include direct controls on chemical phosphorus (P) fertilisers in its EU Nitrates Directive National Action Plan, first introduced in 2006. This study estimates farm gate phosphorus balances and use efficiencies across 150 specialist dairy farms over the seven year period since these controls were introduced (2006–2012) using nationally representative data. Results indicate that P balances declined by 50% over the study period from 11.9 in 2006 to 6.0 kg ha− 1 in 2012. This decline was driven by a reduction in chemical fertiliser imports of 6.5 kg ha− 1. This is equivalent to a reduction of 281 kg of P and represents a cost saving of €812 per annum across the average farm. Phosphorus use efficiency also improved over the period from 60% in 2006 to 78% in 2012, peaking in 2011 at 88.3%. This was achieved while increasing milk solids output per hectare and per cow. Results of a random effects panel data model indicated that P balance and use efficiency are significantly influenced by factors such as fertiliser prices, stocking rates, land use potential, use of milk recording technology, contact with extension services and rainfall patterns.
  • Developing the EU Farm Accountancy Data Network to derive indicators around the sustainable use of nitrogen and phosphorus at farm level.

    Buckley, Cathal; Wall, David; Moran, Brian; Murphy, Paul N. C.; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland (Springer, 2015-07)
    This study uses a national farm survey which is part of the European Union (EU) Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) to develop environmental sustainability indicators in the use of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) across a range of farm systems in the Republic of Ireland. Farm level micro data were used to calculate all inputs and outputs of N and P that cross the farm gate and to derive balances (kg ha-1) and overall use efficiencies across 827 farms in 2012. The sample is populated weighted to represents 71,480 farms nationally. Results indicated an average N balance of 71.0 kg ha-1 and use efficiency of 36.7% across the nationally representative sample. Nitrogen balances were between two and four times higher across specialist dairy farms compared to livestock rearing and specialist tillage systems. Nitrogen use efficiency was generally lowest across milk producing systems compared to livestock rearing and tillage systems. Phosphorus balance and use efficiency averaged 4.7 kg ha-1 and 79.6% respectively across the sample. Specialist tillage and dairying farms had higher average P balances compared to other livestock based systems. The approach developed in this analysis will form the benchmark for temporal analysis across these indicators for future nutrient balance and efficiency trends and could assist other members of the EU FADN to develop similar nationally representative indicators.
  • Summer Rains and Dry Seasons in the Upper Blue Nile Basin: The Predictability of Half a Century of Past and Future Spatiotemporal Patterns

    Mellander, Per-Erik; Gebrehiwot, Solomon G.; Gardenas, Annemieka I.; Bewket, Woldeamlak; Bishop, Kevin; Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (PLOS, 15/07/2013)
    During the last 100 years the Ethiopian upper Blue Nile Basin (BNB) has undergone major changes in land use, and is now potentially facing changes in climate. Rainfall over BNB supplies over two-thirds of the water to the Nile and supports a large local population living mainly on subsistence agriculture. Regional food security is sensitive to both the amount and timing of rain and is already an important political challenge that will be further complicated if scenarios of climate change are realized. In this study a simple spatial model of the timing and duration of summer rains (Kiremt) and dry season (Bega), and annual rain over the upper BNB was established from observed data between 1952 and 2004. The model was used to explore potential impacts of climate change on these rains, using a down-scaled ECHAM5/MP1-OM scenario between 2050 and 2100. Over the observed period the amount, onset and duration of Kiremt rains and rain-free Bega days have exhibited a consistent spatial pattern. The spatially averaged annual rainfall was 1490 mm of which 93% was Kiremt rain. The average Kiremt rain and number of rainy days was higher in the southwest (322 days) and decreased towards the north (136 days). Under the 2050–2100 scenario, the annual mean rainfall is predicted to increase by 6% and maintain the same spatial pattern as in the past. A larger change in annual rainfall is expected in the southwest (ca. +130 mm) with a gradually smaller change towards the north (ca. +70 mm). Results highlight the need to account for the characteristic spatiotemporal zonation when planning water management and climate adaptation within the upper BNB. The presented simple spatial resolved models of the presence of Kiremt and annual total rainfall could be used as a baseline for such long-term planning.
  • Ireland’s Rural Environment: Research Highlights from Johnstown Castle

    O hUallachain, Daire; Fenton, Owen; Foley, M (Teagasc, 2013)
    This booklet gives a flavour of the current research in Teagasc Johnstown Castle Research Centre and introduces you to the staff involved. It covers the areas of Nutrient Efficiency, Gaseous emissions, Agricultural Ecology, Soils and Water quality.
  • The potential to reduce the risk of diffuse pollution from agriculture while improving economic performance at farm level

    Buckley, Cathal; Carney, Patricia; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland (Elsevier, 2013-01)
    Within the constraints of the EU Nitrates and Water Framework Directives, controlling and managing nutrient transfers to water from excessive nutrient use on agricultural land is a significant environmental policy challenge. This paper assesses whether there is room to reduce inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser applications and imported feeds by exploring the extent to which application rates may have exceeded optimum levels using data envelopment analysis methodology. The investigation concentrates on specialist dairy and tillage farms in the Republic of Ireland stratified by land use potential as these agricultural systems are the most intensive and may pose the greatest risk in terms of managing nutrient transfers from agricultural land to water bodies. Results demonstrate inefficiency in the utilisation of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers across these systems. Second stage regression analysis indicates significant return to efficiency from agricultural education. Average over application of chemical fertilizers ranged from 22.8 to 32.8 kg N ha-1 and 2.9 to 3.51 kg P ha-1 in 2008 which research has shown is at least similar and greater than losses to leaching and runoff for N and P, respectively, from similar intensive agricultural land uses. Potential cost savings on chemical fertilisers across all systems on average ranged from €38.9 ha-1 to €48.5 ha-1. Additionally, potential cost reductions on imported feeds of €65 to €84 per livestock were indicated for dairy farms versus efficient cohort benchmark farms. Average excess of imported feedstuffs equated to 5.82-7.44 kg LU-1 of N and 0.92-1.17 kg LU-1 of P. Such reductions have the potential to deliver a double dividend by reducing the risk of diffuse nutrient losses from agricultural land while improving economic margins at farm level.

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