AIC's role in protecting and enhancing water quality


AIC has a well-established active role in helping to reduce the pressure of agricultural nutrients (nitrate and phosphorus) and crop protection products on the water environment.  We contribute towards the development of government policy through the single voice of our joint Water Framework Directive policy group (Terms of Reference), with our partners NFUCLA, and the Crop Protection Association and through our company membership, provide supporting advice to farmers.


The consistency of this advice in terms of standards and scope is important.  These standards are determined through the BASIS and FACTS Accreditation Schemes and the Feed Advisers’ Register.  Once trained, qualified advisers then apply their skills and knowledge on a day-to-day basis taking into account local farming and environmental priorities. 

Our advisers require a user friendly way in which to access environmental data.  The Interactive maps created the Environment Agency are considered helpful.

Researchers in fieldThrough AIC members there is a large network of professional advisers which act as a vital conduit to directly communicate advisory messages on improving farm competitiveness and resilience, whilst delivering environmental outcomes. AIC estimates that 20,000 conversations between farmer customers and advisers in the agri-supply industry take place every week. It is also estimated that advice from AIC member advisers and agronomists has the potential to influence the management of at least 5 million hectares of land.  Further information on the breadth and value of AIC members’ advice can be read in the report Value of Advice Members are also significant contributors to the agricultural R&D field, investing £45 million annually in on-going applied research which underpins technical advice being delivered to farmers. 

A number of advisers have offered to support farmers sitting on River Basin Liaison Panels.

AIC advocates use of advice rather than regulation to help farmers continually adapt their practices and find solutions which meet the dual demands for production and the environment.  Getting the balance right is a complex process which is best achieved with a local understanding of the sources of the environmental pressures and an understanding of how to minimize their effects. 

This Government’s philosophy is similar:  while UK Governments must implement the Water Framework Directive this legislation allows for some proportionality in approach, in meeting water quality objectives – with the operative wording being ‘to aim to meet water quality objectives’.  This is welcomed by policy-makers and industry as objectives can be lowered if it is deemed that they are disproportionately expensive.  The WFD also helps to recognise the value of advisory approaches for local delivery – underpinning the general regulations/rules.  The success of the Government advisory approach, known as Catchment Sensitive Farming which also works in Partnership with the industry through the Voluntary Initiative for Pesticides and the Tried & Tested Professional Nutrient Management Group is reported in the Evaluation Report.

Notable points from the CSF Evaluation report

Water quality modelling indicates that improvements in management practices will result in significant reductions in pollutant losses.  Reductions from the first 4 years are generally predicted to be between 5-10% but can be up to 36%, although longer term datasets are needed to robustly confirm the trends at a catchment scale.

In some cases predicted phosphorus reductions will help achieve compliance with Water Framework Directive (WFD) standards, although so far there is no evidence of any response in the ecological monitoring data over the timeframe.

The results provided clear evidence of a reduction in pesticide levels.  Total Annual Load (26%); Time Weighted mean Concentration (28%); and Flow Weighted Mean Concentration (31%) all reduced significantly for the total of the 6 indicator pesticides between the 2006-7 and 2009-10 crop years.  The proportion of samples exceeding 0.1 µg/l reduced from 5.5 % to 2% against an increase in pesticide use of 5% over the same period, therefore product handling has had an effect and there is fair degree of confidence in the reasons for the changes.

Originally introduced in 2006, Catchment Sensitive Farming is now in its third phase.  It is envisaged that catchment-based approaches will be rolled out nationally following piloting of the approach.

Classification and monitoring

AIC relies on the Environment Agencies in the UK to set the standards in monitoring programmes and data quality.  While much data has to be gleaned through modelling to make good data gaps which would be uneconomical to collect, AIC and its farming body partners seek assurance that action is not taken until data is ‘ground-truthed’.

For detail on WFD thresholds and standards see:

For details on drinking water standards see:

Demonstration Test Catchments

The Demonstration Test Catchment (DTC) project is a joint DEFRA, Environment Agency (EA) and Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) initiative.

It will find out if new farming practices, which aim to reduce diffuse pollution from agriculture, can also deliver sustainable food production and environmental benefits across whole river catchments. The programme is investigating the impacts of pollution, both on ecosystems and on sustainable production, and aims to provide information to better predict and control diffuse pollution from agriculture.

Preparations for Cycle 2 River Basin Management Planning

River Basin Management is a continuous process of planning (to develop River Basin Management Plans) and delivery. The Water Framework Directive introduces a formal series of 6 year cycles. The first cycle will end in 2015 when, following further planning and consultation, the River Basin Management Plan will be updated and reissued.

The debate about the Challenges and Choices for Water has begun.  AIC has responded jointly:
Agriculture Industry Response to debate on Water Challenges and Choices

Related information


Phosphorus in Agriculture and In Relation to Water Quality (including recommendations)

Review of phosphorus pollution in Anglian River Basin District

Updating the estimate of the sources of phosphorus in UK waters

Nitrate Action Programmes

Tried & Tested Nutrient Management Plan 
Produced by the industry for the industry, collating all resources and tools in one place

Crop protection