Cumbria Crack

The Great Farm Challenge – Educating the next generation of farmers

Newton Rigg Winners

Natural England in partnership with the Environment Agency, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and local water companies unveils this year’s champion young farmers in the North West.

Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming team, the Environment Agency and water companies for the areas involved – Severn Trent, Anglian Water and United Utilities – have awarded students from agricultural colleges from across the East of England, the North West and the West Midlands with the prestigious prize.

Regional award ceremonies were held last week in recognition of over 150 young agricultural students’ collaborative and innovative solutions to future farming.

Geoff Sansome, Natural England’s Head of Agriculture, said: “It’s great to see so many young people so engaged and positive about the future of farming. It’s even better that they so clearly understand the challenges of diffuse water pollution. This is good farming that is good for the environment, planned at a landscape scale – this is the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan being put into practice.

“The students have gone above and beyond to find practical solutions for protecting water and air quality, assets and skills that will serve them well as tomorrow’s successful farmers.”

Our North West winners from Newton Rigg College, in Cumbria, impressed our expert judging panel including Natural England, the Environment Agency and United Utilities, with their plans for managing a successful farm by focusing on minimising run-off from pesticides, nutrients and suspended solids such as sediment and algae that can be problematic for aquatic life, whilst also looking at ways to improve air quality and use water wisely on the farm.

Madeleine Gardner, Environment Agency Environmental Specialist, said: “I’m delighted to see the Environment Agency and Catchment Sensitive Farming team working alongside water companies and agricultural colleges across England to reward young agriculturalist to think about ways to protect local water quality.

“I’m proud to be a part of the Great Farm Challenge and help to educate the next generation of farmers to think sustainably, and by sharing good water quality practices we’re reducing the issue of poor water quality – improving the local environment and farm businesses.”

Using a case study farm, some of the agricultural students discovered the management of tramlines could be an effective way to reduce the risk of sediment and phosphorus pollution of surface water. These young farmers presented their plans to change the direction of the tramlines to reduce the amount of sediment and pesticides moving into the water course from crop spraying, and advised the farmer to plough across slopes to avoid tramlines moving down slope. To avoid soil run-off into the water course, the students also proposed adding grass or vegetative buffer strips or crop parallel to the water course to catch sediments and pesticides.

Notably, one college discovered the farm had not conducted soil testing in 15 years. Soil testing should be conducted every three years and is important  for efficient nutrient management for the assessment and minimising pollution of surface and ground water to conserve water quality,  caused by agricultural practices.

Others looked at ways to prevent cattle from drinking directly from the river to avoid poaching and river bank damage, and came up with the solution of using water bays for cattle to drink from instead of the river.

The students noted that farmers could seek advice from their local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers to find out what grants are available to help fund some of these actions.

Clare Bullen, Strategy Development Manager at United Utilities, said: “We’re delighted to be involved in this challenge as it is a great way to influence the next generation of farmers about how they can help us to care for the environment without impacting on their farm business.

“By creating the awareness of good water quality practices we will hopefully avoid problems in the future which could lead to increased water treatment costs and potentially affect the bill-paying customer.”

The students noted that farmers could seek advice from their local Catchment Sensitive Farming Officers, and to find out what grants are available to help fund some of these actions.

This year marks the 8th Great Farm Challenge. Since the Challenge started in 2011, over 1,170 students and land managers have engaged and got involved in improving water and air quality through best practice on farms.

Catchment Sensitive Farming is a partnership between Natural England, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency. The Great Farm Challenge is a joint partnership, led by Natural England, Defra, Environment Agency and regional water companies Severn Trent, Anglian Water and United Utilities. As a collective, we continue to nurture the next generation of farmers and encourage strategic solutions for our young farmers to carry throughout their careers.

Our Great Farm Challenge finalists:

West Midlands
1st Hartpury College
2nd South Staffordshire College – Rodbaston Campus
3rd Derby College – Broomfield Campus

1st Moulton College
2nd Riseholme College
3rd Moulton College

North West
1st Newton Rigg College

Find out more about how we’ve been educating young farmers to improve water quality for all here.

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