A scheme which provides funding to farmers who want to improve their profitability while enhancing water quality has issued more than 2,500 grants.
The Severn Trent Environmental Protection Scheme (STEPS) provides up to £10,000 of match funding. It has seen over 2,500 farmers make investments to improve their efficiency and productivity, while also enhancing water quality and the environment.
Adopting technology, such as GPS and automatic sprayer shutoff, can have huge benefits for producers, the environment, and water companies alike, says Severn Trent agricultural advisor Peter Bowman.
“With chemicals under constant review, it’s important that as an industry, we’re using pesticides and fertilisers appropriately to achieve maximum results while considering their environmental impacts,” says Mr Bowman.
“GPS technology can help reduce overlapping, decreasing the quantity of pesticides and nitrates applied, therefore, lessening the chemical load in the environment, resulting in efficiencies and financial savings.”
One farmer who has taken advantage of the funding is Thomas Mold, who farms a 109ha sheep and arable farm alongside his parents in Warwickshire, while holding down a full-time job as an after-sales engineer at Horsch.
“As my parents are taking a back seat, we’ve reduced the sheep numbers and put more land into arable production. We grow wheat, oats, spring crops and beans in rotation with grass,” he says.
“I’m always looking to make things as efficient as possible. The funding from Severn Trent has allowed me to purchase GPS, helping to improve the accuracy of applications, reduced overlapping and ensured the spray ends up exactly where it’s needed.”
Mr Mold says he was surprised when he realised how much it costs to remove chemicals from water and therefore, does all he can to minimise the environmental impact of food production, especially as it has a knock-on effect to customer bills.
Mr Mold also joined Severn Trent’s Swap Your Nozzles training, which the company offers in pesticide priority catchments to encourage more efficient spraying techniques. Producers who attend also receive a free set of low drift spray nozzles.
“Using low drift nozzles has given me more flexibility with my spray days around work, as the nozzles help us to operate in a wider range of weather conditions. It’s useful to keep up to date with any changes in regulations.”
Also taking advantage of STEPS is James Burton. Along with his father-in-law, Alan Bryer, he manages Lane End Farm, a 170ha mixed holding in Derbyshire. The enterprise includes 250 beef cattle, 121ha of arable, 49ha of grassland and free-range eggs.
The farm’s STEPS investments to date include covering the cattle handling system and installing livestock fencing. But with pesticide reduction a key focus for the Derwent catchment, more recently the pair have applied for grants for the arable enterprise.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve sustainability,” says Mr Burton. “When we purchased our latest tractor, we had GPS installed to help us reduce overlapping with seed, fertiliser and pesticides, which greatly reduces costs and helps protect water.
“On top of the GPS, the funding has allowed us to fit section control on the sprayer, so we have three shut-off zones on each side. The grant helped to pay for the valves and lines to do this, meaning applications are now accurate within three inches, which is fantastic.”
Mr Burton says he is now able to use pesticides in a more targeted way, reducing inputs and preventing excess leaching. This is especially important because many of his fields slope towards watercourses, making the pesticide risk to water high.