Farmers Weekly and the Voluntary Initiative (VI) have launched a second online tool aimed at helping growers identify any problems in their field practices, to minimise the risk of water course contamination by pesticides.

The new ‘Check It Out’ tool is an online questionnaire that highlights any weaknesses in a grower’s water management, cultivation and spraying strategies. It joins the first tool launched last year, which focuses on pesticide-handling areas.

Growers are asked to answer 10 key questions covering in-field practice. For each answer a score is recorded and the best-practice option given. The higher the score, the better their practice.

Keeping herbicides and other pesticides out of water courses is essential to protect the environment, and reduces the risk that pesticide use and farm practices might be restricted by regulation, says Patrick Goldsworthy of the Voluntary Initiative.

He points out that 60% of all pesticides found in water courses have come from the field, often through run off, drift during application or erosion of top soils.

“This problem tends to affect a much smaller number of pesticides, typically those that are applied in winter months when the soil is bare,” he says.

Herbicides such as metazchlor, propyzamide and carbentamide – all important actives for controlling grass weeds in oilseed rape – and have been found in water courses.

Growers are advised to consider cultivating across slopes to reduce erosion, use buffer strips around water courses where run off is likely and avoid spraying during heavy winds.

“If I had to select the two points that matter the most, it’s delaying spraying if heavy rain is imminent, and avoiding spraying when drains are flowing or likely to flow. These are high-risk scenarios,” says Mr Goldsworthy.

Before growers take any action, he suggests they consult their agronomist to identify any local issues with pesticides in water and discuss with them the next steps to take.

The original online tool has already been used by more than 2,000 growers; and as with the second tool, users are able to compare their scores with a national average. Completing both questionnaires will earn growers BASIS and NRoSO CPD points.

How do your practices stack up?

Here’s an example question:

Do you have drainage plans and risk maps for your farm?

1. A full set of maps with field drains and fields identified where there are risks to water

2. Maps for most of the drains, but these do not include the oldest

3. Basic maps only and never really thought about the risks to water

4. Field plans which identify some risks to water

5. No maps yet but hoping the set I get will show some field drains

If you answered number one, well done, you are following best practice. If you had any other answer, then maybe you need to brush up a bit.

To access the ‘Check It Out’ tool go online.