Innovation in farming methods helps water quality and benefits farmers

As part of our commitment to ensure high-quality water to our customers, we work closely with local farmers to look at ways to improve their practices and prevent pesticides and fertilisers getting into the water. In 2019, we started a trial with one of our Blithe SPRING farmers, Mycock Farming Ltd, to test if sowing grass under maize would prevent excess ground water run-off.

Becky and Trevor Mycock are dairy farmers and have been trialling maize undersown with grass for the past two years and are about to start their third year in the scheme.

Maize is a particular concern for water companies, as it leaves big gaps in the fields. By sowing grass under the maize, it binds the soil together, reducing the risk of bare maize stubbles in the winter, which can cause soil erosion and water run-off to the local watercourse. 

“Maize has a reputation for being environmentally damaging, but we recognise that it is an essential part of many producers’ dairy production system. So we looked at a way to undersow the maize with grass to offer green cover during the winter. This is when land is at high risk from nutrient and sediment losses to watercourses.

“We worked with a local contractor, Rob Moore, to develop an adapted drill to sow both crops at once. This removes the need for additional cultivations, which reduces the risk of compaction and other soil structure and fertility issues.”

Nina Yiannoukos-Benton, senior catchment advisor at South Staffs Water.

During the trials, Mr and Mrs Mycock grew 60 hectares of maize in 2019, the first year they took part in the SSW trials, and a third of it was undersown with grass. In 2020, they grow 90 hectares of maize to feed their 400-cow herd and 48 hectares of it was undersown with a grass mixture.

During the trial, they have seen good establishment of both the maize and the grass, even though the seasons have been wetter than usual. The undersown grass also provided additional benefits to the farm. 

“Our biggest concern was whether the grass would reduce maize yield. But our big gamble paid off. We actually saw more maize fresh-weight yield per hectare from the undersown fields.

“We were also able to graze some dry cows and young stock on the maize ‘aftermath’ and the grass also provided a good cover crop during the winter between maize crops.”

“The grass acts like a carpet, keeping mud to a minimum and allowing access to what may otherwise be inaccessible fields. I can honestly say that without the undersown grass we may not have been able to harvest a lot of our maize in 2019, because it was just too wet.”

Becky Mycock, Mycock Farming Ltd.

  We have a grant scheme for producers in its high-risk catchment areas and offers £150/hectare towards the cost of growing maize that’s undersown with grass.

 The grants are available under our SPRING environmental protection scheme, set up to help producers reduce soil run off and pollution.

SPRING grants

Farmers in the Blithe catchment can apply for a grant of up to £10,000 per farm, towards voluntary on-farm infrastructural improvements and land management options.

Mycock trial farm

Find out more about the Mycock trial farm and the work being carried out.

Posted: 23 February 2021