Cover crops funding scheme to be extended by water companies

More farmers in north Hertfordshire and south Cambridgeshire will be able to bid for funding to grow cover crops in 2021-22.

Affinity Water and Cambridge Water have confirmed their successful cover crops scheme will run for a third year and the target area it covers will also be expanded.

The scheme is expected to open for applications in late May or early June, with bids for funding being accepted through the EnTrade environmental trading platform.

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This year, for the first time, applications will also be welcomed from farmers based in the upper parts of the Ivel, Hiz and Mimram catchments between Hitchin and Luton.

In 2020, more than 800ha were cropped with cover crops as a result of the scheme, capturing nearly 40t of nitrate.

The average price paid to farmers was £109/ha in 2020, compared with £105/ha in 2019.

Application process

Producers wanting to take part will be asked to register their details with EnTrade and then submit a price they are willing to be paid to grow an area of cover crop.

The bidding system is competitive, but the platform includes a dial that will indicate to farmers where their bid sits in comparison to other bids put forward, so farmers receive immediate feedback on the nitrate saving of their cropping choices and their standing in the auction.

Bids that include species that are more effective in reducing nitrate leaching and have earlier establishment dates that will capture more nitrate are likely to be more competitive.

If a bid becomes uncompetitive, the farmer will receive an email informing them of this.

This then allows farmers to adjust and edit their bid at any time before the auction closes.

The application window is expected to be open for two weeks.

Shaun Dowman, agricultural adviser to Affinity Water, said: “All farmers involved in our 2020-21 cover crops scheme have successfully grown their cover crops, which have done a great job at protecting soils from erosion, reducing nitrate leaching and capturing carbon.”

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