United Utilities has reported a 56% hike in the number fields entered by farmers in a reverse auction for funding to grow cover crops over winter to take up nitrates remaining in the soil after the summer. The crops reduce nitrate pollution of water sources caused by leaching of the salts into groundwater.
The online auction run by online platform Entrade enabled farmers who worked land over important water storage aquifers, to bid a price they wanted United Utilities to pay them to grow the cover crops based on their price per hectare and the resulting nitrogen saving. In this years bidding 50 fields totalling 246 hectares were entered into the auction. The bids totalled almost £30,000 – up from £20,000 last year. Barley, oats, oil radish, turnip, rape and mustard are some of the crops farmers bid to grow.
United Utilities said last year some 12% of eligible farmers took part in the auction and saved a total of 7,500kg of nitrogen. This winter the amount of nitrogen saved will be up 30%.
Cover crops also benefit farmers by cutting fertilizer costs, reducing the need for herbicides and other pesticides, improving yields by enhancing soil health, preventing soil erosion and conserving soil moisture.