Limiting or reversing any negative impacts of agriculture on rivers has often in the past been viewed as involving just a few parties, predominantly the food producer (farmer) and the regulator (Government agency).
However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that solving the complex problems affecting our rivers requires partnerships between a wide range of organisations and individuals. Also, that apart from the usual protagonists of farmer, regulator and environmental organisation, there are many others with a vested interest in ensuring agricultural practices do not damage the aquatic environment.
For example, food retailers benefit from their suppliers producing sustainably as well as cheaply. This is not just to fit their corporate responsibility and green credentials. Their future business depends on practices that do not lead to precious and finite soils washing off the land into rivers and being lost forever.
The benefits to food retailers of their suppliers producing sustainably go far beyond just their green credentials
One such partnership initiative is called “The Courtauld 2025 Commitment.” This is a voluntary agreement among organisations across the UK’s food system to make production and consumption more sustainable. Signatories have made a commitment to cut the carbon, water and waste associated with food & drink by at least one-fifth in 10 years.
As part of this game changing new approach, the Wye & Usk catchments have been chosen as one of six pilot areas across the UK. It provides an opportunity for us to deliver improvements to our rivers with the support of heavy-hitting Courtauld signatories like Co-Op, Tesco and Sainsburys to name a few.
With their support, the Wye Agri-Food Partnership was convened in 2019, made up of local food suppliers, processors and retailers. Those participating in the partnership are adopting a water stewardship approach within their operations (and wider supply chains), and are working with us to refine the challenges and opportunities for reducing each sector’s impact on water within the catchment by working collectively. Steps are already being taken to deliver the necessary measures.
The Foundation’s priorities to reduce soil and nutrient losses will be:
- Dairy: Improved yard infrastructure and adoption of techniques like under-sowing maize
- Poultry: Treatment for drainage/runoff from free range poultry areas
- Potatoes: Appropriate field selection to reduce immediate risk while adopting approaches that deliver long-term improvements to the soil
- Horticulture: Installation of appropriate infrastructure to avoid sediment washing into rivers and capturing winter rainfall to reduce abstraction pressure
- Combinables: Rebuild organic matter levels to improve infiltration rates and water holding capacity at a significant scale across the landscape
- Beef & Lamb: Restoring soil structure through improved grazing techniques and reduce soil loss from stock poaching.
For more information or to find out how to get involved in this initiative, please get in contact with Kate Speke-Adams, the Foundation’s Head of Landuse by email.
A broad range of companies engaged in the launch meeting for this approach in our catchments.
We are already working with several of these individual growers, providing support to address any challenges identified in their systems. We are also working with M&S, Co-Op and Tesco suppliers to address sector specific issues which we will report further on as the projects progress.