To help Hertfordshire farmers improve their decision making around when best to apply pesticides and fertilisers, Affinity Water is funding a network of Sencrop weather stations, to help improve water quality at source.
Affinity is the UK’s largest water-only supply company it provides a population of around 3.6m with more than 900m litres of water every day.
The weather stations measure real time and anticipated rainfall as well as wind speeds. This information can help farmers to optimise spraying operations so that there is less runoff into the groundwater.
Danny Coffey, Catchment Officer for Affinity Water, explains that a catchment-based solution can prevent contamination of the water.
“It’s expensive and energy-intensive to remove pollutants from drinking water, so its more sustainable and more efficient to try to reduce levels in the first place,” he says. “The Mimmshall Brook is particularly sensitive because it straddles both clay and chalk, allowing surface water to quickly reach the groundwater.”
The Mimmshall Brook and Upper River Colne, catchment areas are designated by the Environment Agency to be ‘Drinking Water Safeguard Zones’, and considered at particular risk from metaldehyde, propyzamide and carbetamide.
Mr Coffey hopes the network of ten Sencrop units, which will be complete by the end of January, will help farmers to develop and adopt a simple stewardship approach to the management of agronomically important actives,
“Propyzamide and carbetamide have very few viable alternatives,” Mr Coffey acknowledges, “but if we have a spike in detected contaminants, we have no alternative but to import water from neighbouring areas, at significant expense.
The company has a good track record of supporting farmers within its catchment areas. It already offers a ‘Farming 4 Clean Water’ initiative, which sees participating farmers receive a monthly water quality bonus payment for keeping metaldehyde concentrations below the drinking water standard.
Affinity also helps farmers design and fund optimised washdown facilities for sprayers, including biobeds and biofilters, and funds sprayer and spreader calibration tests. Moreover, recognising the significance of the black-grass problem, it has started to offer resistance testing to help farmers select the most appropriate actives.
Sencrop’s overall UK network now numbers more than 300 individual stations, while user numbers across Europe total over 10,000.
Fred South, Sencrop’s business manager, says: “Crowd-sourcing weather and other farm data can, through analytics, deliver value, efficiency and environmental gains throughout the supply chain,” he says, “while primarily improving the relevance and accuracy of weather forecasts for the individual grower.”
“The network feature is a valuable addition to an already attractive package,” he says, “giving each individual user access to every station within the network, allowing them to make better, insight-led decisions about key agronomic operations. What’s more, farmers can join an existing network without installing a station themselves, paying only the subscription to access the app.”