Affinity and Cambridge Water expand cover crop funding to cut nitrate levels
Affinity and Cambridge Water have teamed up with farmers to expand a scheme in which they will cover the cost of cover crops, to reduce nitrate levels in groundwater in their supply areas.
Building on the success of the 2019 cover crop scheme, the two water firms are extending the pilot into the 2020/21 growing season. They have teamed up with The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group East in North Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire to cover the cost of growing cover crops.
Crops which can be bid for include oil radish, turnip rape, barley, oats, mustard, forage rye and westerwolds. The farmer can also include other species of their choice up to a maximum of 25% of the eventual cover.
The price paid to farmers in last year’s scheme was on average £100 per hectare.
Using the EnTrade platform and a reverse auction, the companies are targeting a wider area and the nitrogen saving target has been doubled to 40 tonnes.
The EnTrade platform allows farmers to say what price they are willing to be paid to grow an area of cover crop, allowing them to determine the price per hectare and the resulting nitrogen saving. However, as this is an auction successful bids must be competitively priced, ensuring the water companies pay the best price for the ecosystem service provided.
Affinity Water agricultural advisor Shaun Dowman said cover crops provide a “range of benefits” to the farmer and the wider environment, including reducing nitrate leaching and soil erosion.
However, he added, the cost of seed and establishment of the crop can put some farmers off, so the cover crops funding scheme allows the water companies to obtain the benefits they provide, but also share the financial cost.
“We know that in several Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire groundwater catchment’s we are seeing increasing nitrate concentrations, and cover crops can help mitigate this as well as providing other benefits to the soil and the environment. Nitrate concentrations are also rising in South Cambs,” he said.
By placing a bid on EnTrade, farmers will receive immediate feedback on the nitrate saving of their cropping choices and their standing in the auction.
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