Cheshire farmers receive £20,000 to grow cover crops to improve water quality

The 'reverse auction' will help farmers improve water quality
The 'reverse auction' will help farmers improve water quality

Farmers in Cheshire have received £20,000 to grow cover crops in a bid to help improve water quality.

The farmers, who farm land over important water storage aquifers, successfully bid for the cost of cover crops in a reverse auction run by United Utilities.

The online auction, which ran from 12-30 June 2017, allowed the price United Utilities paid to be determined by the farmers based on their price per hectare and the resulting nitrogen saving.

The aim of the auction was to help farmers, who have land within seven safeguard zones in and around Cheshire, to plant cover crops to take up nitrates.

These remain in the soil after the summer harvest. Farmers can now prevent them from leaching into the groundwater over winter, thus affecting water quality.

The safeguard zones surround boreholes from which United Utilities extracts water.

Benefits of cover crops

Cover crops also benefit farmers by cutting fertilizer costs, reducing the need for herbicides and other pesticides, improving yields by enhancing soil health, preventing soil erosion and conserving soil moisture.

Around 12 per cent of eligible farmers took part in the auction and successfully bid to save a total of 7,500 kilograms of nitrogen.

A spokesperson for United Utilities said: “We’re really pleased with the response, it’s great to be able to work with farmers to help them improve their land quality and save money while at the same time improving raw water quality.

“Many farmers who took part said that this auction gave them the incentive to try a new land management technique that they had been considering for some time. The soils in the area can be very sandy and cover crops are a good way of improving the organic matter in the soil which in turn helps retain nutrients that subsequent crops can then use. We’re planning to run an arable reversion reverse auction this winter and repeat the cover crop auction next summer.”