Main authors: Luke Farrow
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Hasler, B. et al. (2021) Identification of cost-effective and coherent management models for drinking water protection in agriculture. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 6.4R 55 pp


The assessment of pesticide and nitrate abatement measures used for the protection of drinking water from both surface and groundwater sources is one of FAIRWAY's research themes. For details of the methodology used for the assessment, an in-depth analysis of catch crops (a measure often used for nitrate abatement), and the general conclusion drawn from this and other case studies see »Cost-effective and coherent management models for drinking water protection.

Contents table
1. Context
2. Catch crop schemes in Northern Ireland
3. Farmers' current perceptions of motivations and challenges for implementing catch crops

1. Context

Northern Ireland is a predominantly rural country with approximately 78% of the country’s area utilised for agriculture (DAERA 2020). In 2019 only 44,500 ha (4.3% of agricultural land) was under arable or horticultural management. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (as part of the devolved government of Northern Ireland) did not, in 2019, offer catch crops as a management option to farmers seeking to comply with Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) requirements (DAERA 2019), nor were other mechanisms adopted to incentivize adoption of these crops.  

2. Catch crop schemes in Northern Ireland

1. Nutrient Action program

Agricultural best practice with respect to nitrogen loss management is regulated through the Nutrient Action Program (NAP) regulations and compliance is a requirement for farms wishing to claim through the BPS. These regulations are applied on a total territory basis and specify periods of the year when nitrogen (split into organic matter manures, farmyard manures and chemical fertilizers) may be applied, as well as stating minimum widths for unfertilized buffers beside watercourses and maximum limits on the slope angle of fields that may be fertilized. Intensive grassland farms may apply for a derogation to increase the maximum annual load of nitrogen permitted to be applied to their land from 170kg/ha to 250kg/ha (EC Decision 2019/1325/EU). The NAP was enacted in 2019 and replaced the Nitrate Action Plan of 2014.

3. Farmers' current perceptions of motivations and challenges for implementing catch crops


Cottney et al. (2021) have shown that the main driver for arable/mixed farmers to plant crops that are not intended for commercial use has been the need for over-winter fodder for livestock. They also note that the farmers they interviewed (n= 55) were aware of the need for, and challenges associated with, managing nitrogen leaching.


Cottney et al. (2021) have also shown that farmers in Northern Ireland believe that the biggest barriers to their adoption of cover and catch crops are the climate and the lack of research into catch crops suitable for the local environment because the shorter growing season in Northern Ireland means that there is less opportunity for a cover crop to establish and higher rainfall totals mean that land is less trafficable. Cottney (pers. comms, 8th April 2020) believes that there is a willingness amongst Northern Irish farmers to adopt catch and cover crops in the future if financial incentives were offered, but that the regulations around the financial implications for farms failing to complete operations by specific dates in some years would need to be relaxed, compared to the English model. Further, there was a consensus amongst local experts that greater adoption was being hindered by the lack of financial incentives and education, whilst further use of legislation would be counter-productive (P. Cottney (pers. comms, 8th April 2020; L. Black pers. comms, 3rd April 2020).



For full references to papers quoted in this article see



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