The Farming Social Hub - a voice for the farming community

Sandy on hand to help clean up the waterways

The Environment Agency’s move to limit or halt slurry and manure spreading in autumn has caused some consternation among the farming community. The measures are being proposed to improve the state of the country’s water ways, with manure and slurry leaching into rivers and ditches from farmland. First among issues for farmers is the timeliness of spreading manure for maximum benefit to the soil and crops – autumn is the best time to do this as the soil gets maximum benefit.

The farming community is frustrated by the continuing perception among government and the wider general public that manure and slurry is a waste product, rather than seeing it as an asset that is highly valuable to sustainable farming models. As Tim Rymer, CEO of JSR Farms said: ‘Our forefathers recognised that manure is liquid gold.’

The Environment Agency’s concerns lie in the fact that nitrate levels in fresh water are high in a large number of areas across the UK. Nitrate levels have become an important indicator of pollution. In England, 55 per cent of the country is classified as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ), with agricultural practices accounting for approximately 70 per cent of total inputs of nitrate in water.

As reported in Farmbusiness.co.uk, a new piece of software from agricultural technology provider Trinity AgTech is helping to address the problem.  The water protection module is a key feature of Trinity AgTech’s digital assistant, Sandy, with sustainability assessment and planning capabilities covering carbon, biodiversity, and agroforestry. Sandy saw its commercial launch on 9 August 2021 and is underpinned by the latest science and years of peer-reviewed field research. The new software complements the UK Government’s recent expansion of the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) programme to improve water and air quality in high priority areas.

Dr Milad Toolabi, Trinity AgTech’s Director of AI-ML Advanced Analytics, was one of the co-developers of Sandy’s water protection module.
He said that the use of two metrics, nitrate leaching and nitrogen uptake efficiency, was important to increase understanding and assessment of leaching at farm, crop and field level.

‘Using these two metrics, Sandy’s water protection module evaluates the water pollution state based on the individual farmer’s historic, current, and planned management practices.

“By bringing historic information in alongside real-time data, Sandy evaluates the farm’s leaching state and supports farmers to make informed decisions on their management practices. Through our data integrations, this analysis is done in seconds. In comparison, the Environment Agency’s own tool takes an estimated 4-5 hours of data input from the farmer to evaluate a farm’s current leaching state.”

The metrics employed at farm, crop and field level encourage farmers to consider the long-term impact on soil nitrogen dynamics arising from different management practices such as crop rotation and fertiliser application.

The criteria used by Sandy, similar to those already adopted by farmers across Europe, can demonstrate the nitrogen-leaching progress for the current calendar year, set thresholds, and can track the historic yearly weighted average of nitrate leaching. Farmers can also gain an understanding of the cumulative financial value lost through excess nitrogen leached through the module.