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27 April 23

Affinity Water’s oilseed rape companion cropping trial results to be showcased at Hertfordshire’s Regenerative Farming Festival Groundswell 2023

Affinity Water will be talking to farmers about its oilseed rape companion cropping trials at the Hertfordshire Groundswell event from 28th and 29th June 2023, at Lannock Manor Farm, near Hitchin.

In a new Affinity Water podcast Danny Coffey, Asset Manager for Catchment, takes listeners out to a field of blooming yellow oilseed rape in Hertfordshire where companion crops of buckwheat and berseem clover were grown within the crop over winter in a bid to protect water. Companion cropping is just one of the measures Affinity Water’s catchment management team fund farmers to implement to help manage water quality issues in catchments, rather than rely on expensive, end of pipe treatment solutions.

While cover crops are generally grown in the winter months before the cereal crops are planted in the Spring, companion crops are planted in amongst crops as they grow. Both can help prevent excess nitrate leaching from the soil into groundwater or rivers. Companion crops are showing great potential at preventing pesticides being lost into nearby rivers too, particularly after heavy rainfall, thus reducing the burden on water treatment processes and saving the additional costs of bringing water in from other areas, should a source have to be switched off.

Danny explained:

“We have been working with the Estate Farm Manager here, in Hertfordshire, on some field trials looking at companion cropping of oilseed rape, and how potentially that can improve soil health but also protect nearby watercourses from the movement of pesticides into them by run off and leaching. It is part of our catchment management programme – to see if this is a viable option to work with farmers to protect water courses elsewhere.”

Danny continued:

“Farmers often plant oilseed rape as a break crop, between cereal crop planting, and use a herbicide called propyzamide on them to control grass weeds such as blackgrass. This is a popular and effective herbicide for farmers as part of their weed management, but it is applied over winter and if it rains after application, propyzamide can be lost to water and risk drinking water supplies. The companion crops, such as berseem clover and buckwheat, offer additional vegetative cover in amongst the crop over winter to intercept pesticides. They also offer other benefits, whilst growing the companions lock up excess nitrate and this stops it leaching into our rivers and groundwater and as the frost or propyzamide kills off the companion crops, they break down and add organic matter to the soil, improving soil health and biology. From a crop production perspective, we also have some encouraging results relating to cabbage stem flea beetle damage which farmers might find interesting as part of their Integrated Pest Management. We’ve been trialling cover crops for seven years now, but our companion cropping trials are new, only in the second year and there is a lot of interest in our results which we will be sharing at this year’s Groundswell 2023.”

This will be the sixth successive year that Affinity Water has been the headline sponsor of the Groundswell show held on the Hertfordshire Farm of Paul and John Cherry, which is now the hottest ticket in Town and attracts farmers from all over the UK and abroad and where Government ministers will once again be attending.

He said that Groundswell 2023 will provide Affinity Water with another opportunity to speak face to face with farmers and they can find out how the Company’s Catchment Management schemes can provide funding for agricultural practices which not only help water and but also crop production and soil health too. “This knowledge exchange about regenerative agricultural practices is vital for us,” he said.

As Danny walks through the oilseed rape fields he explains how important the “control” areas within the fields are, allowing water quality and cabbage stem flea beetle count results to be compared with areas which have not had companion crops planted. “Control areas and our 23 replicated tramlines are very important to our test results and allow us to do proper comparison across these 30 hectares. We’ve had some very important results from this trial, we are always learning,” he said.

By the side of the oilseed rape fields is an area of tussocky grass, known as a Beetle Bank, where as shown in David Attenborough’s Wild Isles series, nature is being allowed to provide its own solutions to pest control and biodiversity. “The beetles and spiders which the stripe provides a habitat for, will eat the aphids, that can harm crops. You will also find hares and farmlands birds using this habitat for shelter and feeding,” he said.

Groundswell 2023 will take place from 28th and 29th June 2023 at Lannock Manor Farm, Hertfordshire, the home of the host farmers the Cherry Family. Tickets are on sale from 24th April 2023. You can find out more here.

The sell-out show is now one of the most important in the agriculture calendar and last year over 5,500 people attended to learn about regenerative farming and many other big topics such as climate change, biodiversity and sustainability. The event is a great opportunity to network with other farmers, advisors and policy makers as well as seeing the latest farm machinery demo’d on the farm.

Alister Leggatt, Catchment and Biodiversity Manager at Affinity Water said:

“As a water supply company operating in the south-east of England and the largest Water only company in the UK, we want to protect the environment for the sake of our 3.8 million customers and future generations. Our headline sponsorship of the Groundswell event goes hand in hand with our work in our catchments and communities to promote measures that protect water and the wider the environment. We are doing all we can as a Company to promote more sustainable agricultural practices in the UK alongside protecting the environment and are delighted to support Paul and John and the Cherry Family in their important work on raising the profile of Regenerative Farming.” 

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