A Norfolk farmer is among the first in the country to win a grant from a £20m Defra fund to reward the use of green agriculture innovations.

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Richard Ling, of Rookery Farm at Wortham near Diss, has been awarded almost £5,000 towards a new satellite-guided system which allows him to spray fertiliser more accurately on a range of crops including oilseed rape, winter barley and winter wheat.

The nutrient content of his fields has been plotted on a digital mapping system, with the information fed into a GPS unit mounted on his tractor and connected to a precision spreader.

The system distributes the optimum amount of fertiliser based on the underlying soil conditions, preventing too much or too little chemical being applied.

Mr Ling said the added efficiency would make a big difference to his business, helping him control his costs while reducing his environmental impact.

He said: “We can do this for phosphate and potash, which are probably the most expensive fertilisers, but there is also nitrogen which is a large part of people’s growing costs. We could also variably apply that, although we haven’t had the tests done for it yet.

“There is definitely an environmental side to it as well. The controls will only get stricter and if we can prove we are only using as much fertiliser and chemicals as we need to, then it shows we are using best practice to apply this stuff rather than just a broad stroke, chucking it on regardless.

“There are always areas that are rich enough and don’t need certain nutrients, and then there are areas that clearly do, and that balance has never really been addressed. That’s what we hope to achieve.”

About 1,000 rural farms and businesses across the country were awarded grants of up to £25,000 last week in the first tranche of grants in Defra’s £20m Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme.

The fund aims to support green schemes which save energy and reduce carbon emissions, reduce dependence on artificial fertilisers through better use of manures, improve soil quality and animal welfare, save and recycle water or promote woodland management.

Mr Ling said his grant, which will pay for 40pc of the cost of his GPS system, came at a perfect time as his business moves away from its previous work with cattle to focus on arable farming.

“We must be one of the very first to get the grant, and it is nice to have this help at a crucial time for our business,” he said. “Grants like this help us to compete with other guys farming thousands of acres.”

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