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Date: 6th April 2018

Newton Rigg College second year Agriculture students have made it through The Great Farm Challenge,  an annual competition which supports the development of water quality in the industry.

The countrywide initiative is co-ordinated by water companies and involves Natural England (through Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF), The Environment Agency (EA) and in the Cumbrian region United Utilities (UU).  The aim of the initiative is to raise the awareness of the importance of water as a valuable resource in the agriculture industry and how management of diffuse and point source pollution on farms can have a hugely positive influence on water quality.

The challenge is a two stage process. Stage one involves a full day of activities starting with a “break out” session in a local village hall where the students were split into four teams and spent about half an hour on each of four information stations where they were able to interact with representatives from UU, EA, CSF and our local CSF project officer who was discussing soils. Students were then transported a short distance to a working dairy farm where they had to observe farming practices whilst being guided around the farm buildings and some of the fields by the CSF officer. From the information gained during the session in the village hall and the time spent on farm the students then had to produce a written report covering what they had learnt during the session, which was then submitted to Natural England for marking.

On successfully passing the first stage, the Newton Rigg students were then invited to attend the regional finals at the NFU HQ in Skelmersdale. For the final, the students in two teams, put together powerpoint presentations justifying three recommendations as to how water quality could be improved or influenced by control of diffuse and point source pollution and better potential better nutrient management. The presentations were judged by a panel of three individuals, one each from UU, EA and CSF.

A total of five teams were in the final and all teams acquitted themselves well even though for some it was the first time that they had stood up in public to deliver a presentation. The presentation topics ranged from looking into the availability and viability of Countryside Stewardship Scheme grants, Countryside Productivity Grant Schemes, basic field drainage and water management whilst helping to maintain farm profitability. Team A (Byron Johnston and Sam Else) and Team B (Ed Carr and Robert Capstick) from Newton Rigg did very well and Team B came a creditable third overall.

The third prize winners brought home a glass trophy and a prize of £50 of Amazon vouchers between the team.

Lee Meakin, from the Environment Agency’s Cheshire Land and Water team, said: “I think the Great Farm Challenge is a really important initiative. It’s been a brilliant and rewarding experience. It was great to speak to the future generation of farmers. At the interactive learning session we got them thinking about a range of environmental challenges such as slurry storage and nutrient management.”

“Huge congratulations go to the winners and everyone who took part. As judges we were really pleased with the level of enthusiasm and commitment of the students who put a lot of effort into their farm improvement proposals.”

Bob Middleton, Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) Project Manager with Natural England, said: “I am delighted that once again CSF is working alongside water companies and the colleges to provide a great opportunity for young farmers.  The Great Farm Challenge not only educates future farmers about DWPA and the benefits of protecting the environment, but it’s a great example of partnership working and a chance to work with like-minded people from other organisations also working on catchment management.

“During the six years the project has been running, we’ve educated just over 800 young farmers and land managers about the impact of agriculture on water sources.”

Strategy Development Manager at United Utilities Clare Bullen added: “By creating the awareness of good water quality practices we will hopefully avoid problems in the future which could impact the environment, the farm business and the cost of water treatment which can then impact the bill paying customer.”

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Newton Rigg College,
CA11 0AH
01768 893400