Dr. Donnacha Doody, an expert environmental scientist, and Leader of the Catchment Science Research Programme in the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), was recently awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to work with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in Pennsylvania.
Donnacha is currently in the US for 4 months working with Dr. Pete Kleinman in the world leading USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, based at Penn State College. The trip is being funded through Fulbright Northern Ireland Public Sector Scholar Award 2017.
During his visit, Donnacha will be investigating sustainable phosphorus (P) management practices in the US and assessing the suitability of the Phosphorus (P) Risk Index tool, developed by the USDA-ARS, for the sustainable management of slurry application on dairy farms in Northern Ireland. It is estimated that over 50% of agricultural fields in Northern Ireland have a soil P concentration above requirements for efficient grassland production, and continued application of slurry to these fields poses a significant risk to water quality. The P Risk Index is a decision support tool that provides advice to help optimise effective use of slurry, for example on where and when slurry should be used. This helps farmers maximise agricultural productivity while minimising the risk to water quality. It therefore provides an approach to balance agronomic and environmental objectives.
Over the past 10 years, regulations controlling P use in agriculture have been introduced in Northern Ireland through the Phosphorus Use (in Agriculture) Regulations 2006 Nitrates Directive (ND) (91/676/EEC) and Water Framework Directive (WFD) (2000/60/EC). Despite these regulations, the expected improvement in water quality has not yet materialised and this poses a major challenge to current farming systems. In order to achieve further improvements in water quality, it may be necessary to restrict the level of manure application to fields with high soil P concentrations. If farmers cannot spread all of the manure produced on their own farm on their own fields, then manure may have to be exported off-farm. AFBI are currently evaluating options for manure separation and processing to reduce the cost and increase the opportunity for export of manure P from farms with a potential phosphorus surplus.
In this context, Donnacha’s visit provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate the accuracy of the P Risk Index tool for Northern Irish conditions; conduct farm visits to discuss with US farmers how a P Risk Index approach impacts on their farm management practices; and hold discussions with policy makers to consider the regulatory and governance structures that need to be considered when implementing a P Risk Index approach. Lessons learnt from the trip will be used to inform the development of future policy on sustainable P management in Northern Ireland
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