FARMERS rethinking their rotations after the appalling winter and spring are advised to consider where permanent grass buffer strips should be sited to protect water.
Crops failed and autumn drilling was abandoned as the wet, cold weather took its toll but more recently, there has been a massive increase in spring sown crops.
However, on many farms, long-established rotations will now need to be rethought for autumn 2013.
Jim Egan, of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, said: “In the rush to rethink farm rotations, it is important to bear in mind the opportunities for reconsidering environmental features as well as which fields will grow each crop.
“While many will focus on optimising returns after a tough harvest in 2012 and an appalling autumn and winter, the need to look for environmental benefits should not be overlooked.
“Bare areas of land that now exist as a reminder of localised flooding may be put to better use for cover crops or beetle banks.
“However, the need to protect water from crop protection products needs to be considered as well.”
In Northumberland, John Baker Cresswell farms 2,100 acres of crops and livestock between Bamburgh and Belford.
He is also a trustee of waterways charity the Northumberland Rivers Trust which aims to help farmers restore and safeguard Northumberland’s rivers and streams.
Mr Baker Cresswell said: “The very wet 2012 season was a reminder to me to be careful about leaving bare soil close to water courses.
“The consequence of intense rainfall falling on unprotected ground is erosion, which compromises water quality through sediment and nutrient pollution.
“If I can hold them in the fields then that sediment and those nutrients are assets, not pollutants, and permanent grass buffer strips can do just that. It’s a win-win situation.”
The Voluntary Initiative (VI) is a programme of measures which promotes responsible pesticide use. It recommends farmers place grass buffer strips at least 6m wide beside water courses to minimise the risk of run-off, especially where autumn-applied herbicides are used on winter oilseed rape crops.
Wider strips will be needed for steeper slopes and certain products. Strips can be established across slopes to break up run-off down larger fields.
VI manager Patrick Goldsworthy said: “Grass buffers have been proven to significantly reduce surface run-off and so protect watercourses.
“Establishing and maintaining these buffers are an easy way for farmers to play their part in mitigating losses by surface run-off.
“This will help ensure the ongoing availability of important herbicides, such as carbetamide, propyzamide and metazachlor, for profitable oilseed rape production and effective black-grass control in many arable rotations.”
Support for buffer strips and beetle bank is available from Environmental Stewardship. Advice on how to access funding and farming practices to protect water are available from Catchment Sensitive Farming, see www.naturalengland/csf
Full details of how to establish buffer zones and how field slopes affect recommended widths can be found on the VI website www.voluntaryinitiative.org.uk