The number of farmers in Cheshire and North Wales taking part in United Utilities’ drive to improve raw water quality saw a significant increase in 2018.
The water company saw a spike in take-up of its schemes to prevent pesticides running off agricultural land into raw watercourses within three of its drinking water safeguard zones.
This year, the number of weed wiping machines loaned for free to farmers rose by 13.5 per cent compared with 2017 and the total number of fields treated increasing by 36 per cent.
Weed wipers work by applying chemical directly to the weed using a rotating brush which dramatically reduces spray drift and herbicide use. The wipers are only licensed for use with glyphosate weed killer which is considered to be less harmful to the environment than other selective broadleaf herbicides such as MCPA 2, 4-D and Mecoprop. These have been detected through routine water quality monitoring in the River Dee, River Dane and Llangollen Canal catchments. Although the levels found have been too low to cause environmental or health risks they increase the cost of treating raw water.
United Utilities has also reported a rise in the numbers of farmers taking up its offer of free MOTs for spraying and slug pellet equipment. Poorly maintained pesticide spray equipment can lead to over or under application which can be detrimental, not just to water quality and the environment, but also to the farmer’s pocket or the success of a crop. The MOT involves a number of checks to ensure the machine is safe and fit for purpose.
In the River Dee catchment, 52.4 per cent leaked, 23.8 per cent had hoses in poor condition and 42.9 per cent leaked while spraying. Once checked, all faults were fixed.
Dr Kate Snow, United Utilities’ Southern Catchment Manager, commented: “We’re delighted that so many farmers are now working with us to reduce pesticide run-off into rivers and streams in our southern catchment area.
“Weed wipers provide an effective and economic alternative in the control of weeds, improving grazing for livestock and benefiting water quality. Farmers can also help to keep our waterways pesticide free and can save money on parts and wasted chemical by doing a few bits of maintenance before putting spray equipment away for winter.”
United Utilities employs catchment advisors within its safeguard zones who work closely with farmers and land managers to promote best practice in the storage, handling, application and disposal of pesticides and herbicides.