Water quality has become a top priority for TMAF’s farm at Morley. Our motivation is that we want to be good farmers and custodians of the landscape but also demonstrate good practice to others. We also want to show that activities and measures to enhance water quality going into the River Yare catchment can be for modest cost and effort.
Why farms like ours need to clean up our act on farm water
According to the Norfolk Rivers Trust a very high proportion of rivers in our county fail to meet the required standard. Problems in Broadland rivers’ catchments include turbidity (silt), high phosphate and some pesticides.
These water quality problems are despite the UK’s obligation to improve and maintain surface water standards as set out by the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). WFD is a framework for management of rivers and aims for all rivers to be at good ecological status.
Collaborating for change one drop at a time
Government can meet the WFD standards by imposing legislation and financial penalties. The alternative is for stakeholders to collaborate for positive change.
Collaboration is tried and tested and already being used by organisations such as water companies, national parks and rivers’ trusts. There is also plenty of research investigating methods improving water quality. This is where TMAF is trying to see what can be achieved on our land, with our neighbours and to the farmers we demonstrate to.
Hurry up to stand still
To maintain efficient crop production, we need our land drainage systems to work. However, we need to slow the water flow in our ditches (stand still) in order to reduce silt being carried away and also prevent sudden surges of water going on into the rest of the river catchment.
The starting point has been a range of activities including:
- map the farm and understand where water comes from and goes to
- observe water flows to identify areas of concern
- sample and test water quality around the farm to identify problems
- identify simple interventions to meet our aims
From the first assessments, a number of areas at Morley need further investigation including run-off from tracks, yard areas, gateways, tramlines, compacted areas, highways and the discharge from Anglian Water sewage works and from private dwellings.
Gains from going with the flow
The benefits to the farm of a focus on water quality include prevention of soil being lost from the land, avoiding nutrients and pesticides being lost from the fields. These can have financial benefits to the business. There are also far-reaching benefits, literally, with the reduction of flood risk in the water catchment. In addition, there can be improvements in biodiversity and tourism opportunities such as fishing.
Doing good but can do better
Across TMAF’s commercial farming business of 675 ha of combinable crops and sugar beet, we already have the following practices that enhance water quality including:
- good crop rotation using seven crops
- avoiding bare soil, cover crops used
- consideration given to direction of cultivations
- avoiding over-cultivation of soil
- attention given to drainage systems to avoid ponding
- only using pesticides and fertiliser when required and following guidelines
- grass buffers along water courses
Good these may be, but we know they are probably not enough if we are to achieve our water quality aims.
Showing and sharing what we do
We have made a start using a number of different approaches. First among these measures, picked up in our initial assessment of problem areas on TMAF’s farm, is some straightforward work at the sewage works on our land which serves houses at Deopham.
We do more than farm and host experiments. We are also committed to showing and sharing results and experience. For our work on the Morley Clean Water Project, we’re going to host open meetings supported by partners including Norfolk Rivers Trust and Anglian Water. We will also share case studies of the work we do to explain the practices we try on-farm here at Morley, the cost and the results.