One of the UK’s biggest water companies has seen a big return on investment after paying farmers to reduce pollution.
Severn Trent’s Farming for Water initiative saves up to £20 in water treatment costs for every £1 it spends in support for more than 5,000 farmers across the Midlands, says Jodie Rettino, the company’s catchment and biodiversity lead.
“When it comes to water, farmers and Severn Trent have common goals. Ultimately, we both need water to be in the right place at the right time and it needs to be good quality. That’s why it makes sense for collaboration to improve water quality upstream.
“The grants offered to farmers in the Midlands have multifaceted benefits. They improve water quality for our customers, enhance the wider environment and have numerous productivity benefits for producers.”
In the last five years, more than £5.7 million has been invested in Severn Trent’s environmental protection scheme (STEPS). It helps farmers change their practices to enhance water quality, farm productivity and the wider farm environment.
Dr Rettino says: “We’ve seen amazing results which include a 90% reduction in pesticide peaks over the last five years. This milestone has been achieved by farmers recognising the value of the mutual benefits that match-funded grants offer.”
Many producers invest the money from STEP grants into marginal land to avoid taking valuable land out of production. This includes planting buffer strips or building beetle banks, which bring biodiversity benefits as well as water improvements.
“About ten years ago we were looking to install a treatment plant, specifically to remove pesticides at the treatment works in Tittesworth, which would have cost several million pounds,” said Dr Rettino.
Through catchment management work and investment with farmers, we reduced pesticide contamination to a level that meant treatment equipment wasn’t required.”
Although a lot of progress has already been made in reducing pesticide levels, Dr Rettino says there is still more work to be done when it comes to reducing nitrates and cryptosporidium in watercourses.
Grant recipient and farmer James Kent said equipment purchased through the scheme had helped him reduce fertiliser usage. Water quality had improved through precision applications and the farm is using less fertiliser – a big cost saving.
“We were already saving 5% a year on fertiliser costs using GPS guidance equipment purchased from our Severn Trent grant. But with a further grant, we now have variable rate application and section control, which has saved us more than 10% a year.”
Dr Rettino is encouraging more farmers to apply for STEPS funding, with the application window open for another six months. Getting involved would help farmers make the shift towards farming with the wider environment in mind, she says.
Although change brings opportunities, Dr Rettino says farmers should still use Severn Trent advice to ensure they are prepared to take the leap – and see what postive change can do for their business.
For more information and the full grant eligibility criteria. visit www.stwater.co.uk/steps. Alternatively, contact your local Severn Trent agricultural adviser. Applications are open until 31 January 2022.