Water company offers cash to cut nitrate leaching in maize

Farmers in Cheshire have been offered a chance to bid for funding to undersow maize with grass or crops to help reduce nitrate leaching and erosion.

The funding is through water company United Utilities and available to farmers with land in sensitive groundwater safeguard zones that are used for drinking water abstraction.

Farmers can bid the price they are willing to be paid to undersow their maize in a reverse online auction, the company said.

See also: Undersowing maize with grass brings soil health benefits

This is where sellers compete to obtain business from the buyer and prices will typically decrease as the sellers underbid each other, in a reversal of normal auction procedure.

The auction, which closes on Friday 24 April 2020, uses the Entrade environmental auction system.

It allows the funding level to be determined by the farmers who participate based on their price/ha and nitrogen cost savings.

Farmers can also choose whether they undersow when drilling maize or at the four-leaf stage, once the crop is established.

During the auction, farmers will be able to see where their bid sits in comparison with others and once the auction has closed, successful bidders will be contacted by United Utilities’ catchment advisers directly.

Three previous similar auction offers by the company have been successful, with a total of £80,000 worth of bids made, reducing nitrogen applications by 28,000kg since the first auction in 2017.

The company’s southern catchment manager, Kate Snow, said in addition to nitrate loss, there were other environmental and water quality issues associated with maize.

“Heavy autumn and winter rains cause soil erosion, phosphorus loss, soil sediment loss and the potential for pesticide pollution of surface water.

“Undersowing maize with grass or other crops reduces soil erosion, improves soil health and provides a useful additional crop,” said Dr Snow.

“The technique of establishing a ‘nurse crop’ of grass during the maize establishment period is considered to be a valuable method for providing a post-harvest ‘mop’ to reduce nitrate loss through the soil profile,” she added.

Contact numbers

Farmers can find out more about the auction system online

Farmers in the River Dane or Cheshire borehole catchments can also contact Veronika Moore by email at veronika.moore@uuplc.co.uk or phone on 07917 750 379.

Those with land in the Wirral and Warrington borehole catchments can contact Ellie Morris by email at elena.morris@uuplc.co.uk or phone on 07917 750 378.