Affinity Water and Cambridge Water are working in collaboration with farmers to expand its scheme to enhance the ecosystem services that are provided from the farmed land around its water sources.
Affinity Water has again teamed up with The Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group East and Cambridge Water in North Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire to cover the cost of growing cover crops. Building on the success of the 2019 cover crop scheme they are now extending the pilot into the 2020/21 growing season, targeted at reducing nitrate leaching from agricultural land.
Using the EnTrade platform and a reverse auction they 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 not the water companies, to determine the price per hectare and the resulting nitrogen saving. However, as this is an auction successful bids have to be competitively priced, ensuring the water companies pay the best price for the ecosystem service provided.
Shaun Dowman, Agricultural Advisor, Affinity Water said: “Cover crops provide a range of benefits to the farmer and the wider environment, including reducing nitrate leaching and soil erosion. However, the cost of seed and establishment of the crop can put some farmers off, so this scheme allows the water companies to obtain the benefits they provide but we 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.
Bids that include species that are more effective in reducing nitrate leaching and have earlier establishment dates will capture more nitrate therefore are likely to be more competitive. The bidding system includes a dial which will indicate to farmers where their bid sits in comparison to other bids.”
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.
Jennifer Thomas Catchment Advisor at Cambridge Water said: “If a bid becomes uncompetitive the farmer will receive an email informing them of this. It is a very fair bidding system as it allows farmers to adjust and edit their bid at any time before the auction closes.”
“Whether farmers are new to the scheme or have taken part previously there is full support available to them to help them make the right cover cropping choices for their farms. FWAG East will be supplying advice on cover crops and will help farmers through the bidding process.”
Crops that can be bid for include Oil Radish, Turnip Rape, Barley, Oats, Mustard, Forage Rye and Westerwolds. Also, the farmer can 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.