Free hire of machinery to target weeds directly is being offered to famers in the River Dee area of Wales from this month.
Weed wipers, which target weeds but leave underlying crops unaffected, are available for hire for up to three days for farmers in the River Dee drinking water safeguard zone.
United Utilities and The Welsh Dee Trust are offering a range of models, including the Blaney Quad-X, the Logic CTF250, and the tractor-mounted Logic CTM600W.
The trailed machines also come with their own dedicated trailer.
Dee catchment adviser Gareth Foulkes said: “Livestock selectively graze, avoiding weeds such as docks, nettles, thistles and soft rush, which then grow taller than the pasture.
“Weed wipers can target these weeds by setting the weed wiper height.”
As the chemical is only applied specifically to the weeds, this reduces treatment cost, Mr Foulkes added. Weed wipers do not produce any spray drift, improving operator safety and meaning weeds can be treated when it would usually be too windy.
They can be used on grass, cereal, root and horticultural crops to get rid of a variety of weeds including rush, thistles, docks, nettles and volunteer weeds.
United Utilities suggests farmers using the equipment apply the herbicide glyphosate, which is considered to be less harmful to the environment than selective herbicides such as MCPA, 2,4-D and Mecoprop.
These selective weedkillers have been detected through routine water quality monitoring in the Dee catchment, and though the levels have been too low to cause environmental or health risks, they increase the cost of treating raw water.
Huw Beech, of Plas yn Ial Farm, took up the offer last year and said he was “astounded” by the results.
“I had an eight acre field next to the river with 60% rush cover. I treated it in May and it had less than 1% rush by August. Excellent advice and top tips from the farmer who held and co-ordinated the loan of the weed wiper,” he said.
Famers should contact their local catchment adviser to find out if they’re eligible for the offer, which runs until 31 October 2018.
Quest for cleaner water
United Utilities says the company is dedicated to working with farmers to help them save money while improving land and water quality.
Last June the water company launched a “reverse auction” and offered to pay farmers in north-west England to grow cover crops in a bid to prevent nitrates leaking into the groundwater during the winter months.
United Utilities is also offering free advice and help for farmers applying for Countryside Stewardship grants, and hopes farm infrastructure improvement will help protect groundwater.