Sussex farmers shared their experiences of innovative methods of protecting water quality through farming, at a workshop held by South East Water on 18 February.

Three growers, from farms in Hailsham, Haywards Heath and Heathfield, are taking part in water company-funded trials to understand how growing rows of grass in-between maize crops can prevent soil and nutrients reaching nearby rivers.

South East Water has worked with farmers and landowners near the River Ouse and River Cuckmere to trial this practice for more than four years.

Known as inter-row sowing, this technique improves soil structure and rainwater infiltration.  In turn, this keeps the soil and valuable nutrients on the farm and away from the rivers, which are the source of drinking water for parts of East and West Sussex.

Compared to leaving maize fields bare after the autumn harvest, this method makes the land easier to manage and has been proven to have no effect on the amount of maize produced.

Improving the quality of the river water at source makes it quicker and easier to turn into top-quality drinking water, lowering the carbon footprint of the water treatment process.

Anne Blokhus, Catchment Advisor at South East Water, said: “We have a long history of working in partnership with farmers and landowners to improve water quality at the source and make their land easier to manage.

“The results of the trials so far have shown that inter-row sowing greatly improves soil structure and water infiltration without affecting the yield.

“I’d encourage anyone interested in this topic to visit our maize webpage to find out more and watch a recording of the workshop.”

As part of efforts to improve river and groundwater quality, South East Water also offers funding to farmers who have other ideas to prevent soil from reaching nearby rivers and may part-fund other on-farm improvements which benefit water quality.

Delivered in partnership with Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming project, the water company's award-winning catchment management programme offers free advice and 1-2-1 visits to farmers and landowners.

To find out more about the company’s catchment management programme, visit our catchment management page.

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