A voluntary scheme between a water company and farmers targeted at specific river catchment areas, has significantly reduced the levels of metaldehyde and other pesticides in river waters.
Pesti-wise is a new initiative from Northumbrian Water Group, the drinking water supplier to 4.5 million people across the north east of England, operating as Northumbrian Water, and East Anglia, operating as Essex & Suffolk Water.
The initiative aims to improve river water quality by working with farmers and their advisors, delivering on-farm guidance to encourage best practice in the use and application of pesticides on arable farms in parts of the north east, Essex and Suffolk.
Teresa Meadows, Catchment Advisor said: “Partnership working is at the heart of what we do and our voluntary scheme ‘Pesti-wise’ is showing strong indicators that it is proving effective in its first year of operation.”
“By sharing best practice with farmers in highly targeted and specific river catchments we’ve been able to shape farming practice on the ground, and through monitoring water quality we’ve seen how these changes can lead to an improvement,” she said.
An example of changing practices includes encouraging the use of different types of pellets to control slugs, and adapting the application timing in relation to weather and field conditions.
Such changes of practices and use of precision pellet application techniques in the Roxwell Brook catchment, near Chelmsford in Essex, has resulted in no exceedences of the 0.1μg/l drinking water standard for metaldehyde in catchment water samples in the last autumn and winter period. This compared to an average of 55% of samples above 0.1μg/l in the previous three years. The maximum concentration of metaldehyde observed was also significantly reduced, an encouraging 97% lower than in previous years. Similar reductions have been seen across all of the Pesti-wise catchments and for other pesticides such as propyzamide, an oilseed rape herbicide.
The construction of bunded sprayer filling areas, installation of sprayer auto-section shut- off, the use straw rakes to increase slug dessication and reduce activity, and precision applicators for slug pellet applications has been made possible, thanks to a grant scheme available through Pesti-wise. These grants have enabled farmers in the Pesti-wise catchments to manage their pesticide applications in an even more precise way to the benefit of downstream water quality.
Rob Metson, of Pooty Pools Farm, Roxwell, Essex received a 75% grant from Essex & Suffolk Water through Pesti-wise towards a new precision slug pellet applicator and he says it has helped to change the way he works with his pellet applicator.
Rob said: “The grant forms were easy to understand and the grant, once approved, came through fast. It has been very beneficial for the farm to be spreading the pellets more accurately, reducing the quantities we use, and in-turn lowering the costs to me as a farmer.”
David Park, of Buston Barns Farm, Warkworth, received a 75% grant from Northumbrian Water through Pesti-wise towards a new precision slug pellet applicator and believes the equipment has made a big difference in the accuracy of his pellet distribution.
He said: “The ability to accurately spread the slug pellets means that we can play a greater part in reducing the potential impact upon the river from our farming practices, plus it actually gives a more even spread, improving the results we get with the crops.”
David said: “We previously had a cab-mounted slug pelleter, which wasn′t very successful, so the opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of purchasing something that improves the process, from filling to distribution, and plays a part in improving water quality, was too good to miss”.
Pesti-wise will continue to work with farmers to prove that a voluntary scheme can support sustainable agriculture and protect river water quality.