Croptec 2015: David Felce is speaking at this year’s CropTec show, which takes place at the East of England Showground on November 25-26. New for this year is the Spraying Technology Hub. Visit www. croptecshow.com
Best practice for pesticide handling is a key part of water stewardship and can help build more efficient farm practices. Heather Briggs visited three farms to see how farmers can virtually eliminate the threat of water contamination thanks to support from the Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative.
Taking steps to protect water need not be costly; sometimes renovating an old building and converting it to a spray handling area can work well and be highly cost-effective.
That is the message from Andrew Down, of Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) team, who says building pesticide handling areas which cut down or eliminate the possibility of contamination is key to good water stewardship, but it also has to be something which works well for the farmer and helps to make the operations efficient, so valuable time can be saved.
As a catchment sensitive farming adviser for Cambridgeshire, Mr Down says case studies at farm level have shown losses from pesticide handling areas can account for up to 80 per cent of pesticide detections in a catchment, with contamination also coming from the field through run-off and drain flow.
But all measures for water stewardship need to make financial sense to growers, he says, pointing out grants are available which could cover up to £10,000 of the cost of a new build or conversion.
David Felce grows beans, wheat and oilseed rape on 101 hectares (250 acres) at Midloe Grange Farm, St Neots. As a contract spray operator and spray operator trainer, a well-designed pesticide handling area is crucial to the business and he has a dedicated building for loading and cleaning sprayers situated round the back of farm buildings and away from the main farm traffic.
Mr Felce says: “The secret to real efficiency is cutting turn-round time so you keep down-time to a minimum – if you can shave 15 minutes off each sprayer fill by having everything to hand, you can often get an extra tank load sprayed during the day, helping improve timeliness.
“If you have the facility to fill and clean the sprayer indoors, you can get everything ready while the weather is still unsuitable, so as soon as everything is right you can be out there spraying.”
This is particularly important in winter, he adds, giving an example of spraying herbicide Atlantis WG (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) on wheat and cleaning out before spraying oilseed rape.
The farm has an innovative system which allows him to have the body of the tractor inside the building and clean the spraying equipment outside so all water is collected in a recessed area, which then goes into an Aco-drain with a silt trap and then into a 5,000-litre underground tank. The tank has a submersible pump which pumps spray washings into a Biobox biofilter system.
He explains the tank capacity has to be designed to cope with worst-case scenarios, such as a major tank or pipe rupture, adding that the submersible pump works on a float system, which can be adjusted if the tank is filled so it does not overload the filter. The machinery washing water is directed to the tank.
“The real challenge here was total water volume outside is very much at the whim of the rain, and everything needs to be carefully calibrated to stay within the agreed limits for a biofilter.
“We had to devise a system to make sure rainwater mixing with the wash water would not overload the maximum allowed.”
Hinged roofs were specially designed and added on to the side of the building over the outdoor recessed area; these can be raised when it is raining or lowered when the sprayer is being cleaned.
Filling and storage is all done under cover, so any spillage drains into the tanks. “Many farms are unable to have biobeds for one reason or another, so biofilters are often a good option.”
However, he says it is better to go for a branded one as it guarantees a system which will function correctly.
One of the challenges Mr Felce has had to contend with is the farm is adjacent to Grafham Water and in addition to supplying water, the reservoir and surrounding area are scheduled as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
“We have to go the extra mile to make sure there is no contamination, but as the system works well for us it is a win:win situation.”
Duxford-based Russell Smith Farms grows a mixture of organic and conventional crops on 810ha (2,000 acres), including winter wheat, potatoes for the pre-pack market, sugar beet and onions.
The farm has converted an old barn so all pesticide handling is done indoors, with storage adjacent to the spray filling area so operators do not have to cross the yard, reducing the risk of spillage into the ordinary drains.
An area has also been set aside for cleaning mud off machine wheels, ensuring none of the washings go into the normal drains. Both washings and any spillages from loading sprayers are collected in a special drain and are directed to an underground tank from which they are pumped to a phytobac biobed system.
The research on the layout and phytobac was done by Bayer CropScience and was guided by experience in France.
The mixture of straw and soil is irrigated on the top when effluent goes in, causing biomediation to occur in a similar way as it would in soil. Any excess liquid is evaporated within the closed system leaving no effluent to dispose of, so there is no contamination.
Alice Johnston, applications and stewardship coordinator for Bayer CropScience, says: “The phytobac is a closed system where chemicals are broken down by natural conditions with no need to dispose of effluents.”
Thanks to a Catchment Sensitive Farming grant, a completely new building has been constructed for pesticide handling at The Sills Farm, which grows combinable crops on the Cambridgeshire/Suffolk borders.
Everything can be unloaded straight into store without the need for chemicals to be moved across the yard, and the area has been specially set up so any chemical spillages are stored in a tank and then pass through three biofilters stacked in the corner.
Mr Down says: “No waste should ever leave the building. There is an additional benefit from having an entirely enclosed and well-insulated pesticide handling area as when the weather is very cold, the tanks can be filled the night before and the tractor left inside ready to go first thing in the morning without worrying about antifreeze.
“We have some technically strong farmers who take great care with precision for placement of fertilisers and pesticides, use N-retaining cover crops and also look after the soils – all of which can make a huge difference to the quality of the water.
“At the same time, these improvements can help farm efficiency and profitability, by making things easier where possible.”
The Water Capital Grants Scheme is part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and will be managed and delivered through Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative in 2015.
Advice from Anglian Water
Kelly Hewson-Fisher, catchment adviser for Anglian Water, says: “We want to work with farmers to ensure we protect both their businesses and the region’s water.
“Forty per cent of the pesticides we detect in our water come from pesticide handling areas and 60 per cent comes from losses in the field. There are some basic things farmers can do in the farmyard and on the fields to prevent these chemicals reaching our waterways.
“Always try to fill your sprayer on a dedicated bunded concrete handling area where drainage is collected or filtered through a biobed or biofilter. Look after your equipment, do not leave it unattended while filling and if you do have a spill, clean it up as soon as possible.
“In the field a six-metre grass buffer or five-metre no spray zone is essential alongside a watercourse – always adhere to the LERAP requirements. Avoid spraying or applying products if the ground is heavily cracked or waterlogged and do not apply pesticides if heavy rain is expected over the following two days.”
The company has recently employed five catchment advisers to work directly with farmers on measures to protect water.
Grantable works under CSF’s current scheme
- Biobeds and sprayer filling areas
- Yard works for clean and dirty water separation
- Roofing of manure storage and livestock gathering areas
- Roofs for slurry and silage stores, including floating covers for slurry stores
- Livestock and machinery tracks