Conservation Crops Case Study
RM & JF Seed, Berwickshire
"It's great to see the results of the conservation efforts. We can see the impact this is having across the farms we manage through more farmland birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators - it's a terrific site to see.”
- Farm manager, Daniel Seed
For farm manager Daniel Seed, adapting estates and farmland to suit AECS (Scotland’s Agri-Environment Climate Scheme) requirements has meant a strong focus on environmental land management over the last five years. Working with the Kings technical advisory team, Daniel is ensuring the introduction of cover crops, grass margins and buffer strips doesn’t just tick a box on the scheme sheet, but also enhances land productivity for the future.
Managing 4,300ha through RM & JF Seed, Daniel and the team are responsible for the day-to-day running of 23 contract farm agreements. More recently, the team has had heavy involvement in the conservation element of the farms through supporting farmers with their AECS obligations.
“Through this work, we’re spending a lot more of our time establishing and managing conservation crops across the Scottish Borders and Lothians,” says Daniel.
Having worked closely with Frontier farm trader Keith Douglas, Daniel was introduced to the Kings team to support on the conservation and stewardship aspect of the business.
“The relationship is very good,” says Daniel. “They have the breadth of knowledge which I can utilise from local advisors and those based in England. This allows me to be slightly ahead of the game across the border.
“It’s truly a one-stop shop for all my needs as I can purchase all the seed for every farm in one hit, making the transaction simple and effective.”
Kings technical advisor Alan Johnson has worked with Daniel for almost 18 months and has been involved in the transition to accommodate large scale conservation schemes with lots of different priorities from the farmers.
“There’s certainly been hurdles to face along the way with so many differing land types to contend with,” notes Alan.
“But what’s great is that Daniel, the team and the farmers see the value in how stewardship and intertwining conservation within a commercial rotation can benefit soil health and future crop productivity.
“Daniel sees the importance of a joined-up, integrated approach when it comes to conservation which makes the process a lot easier.”
For Daniel and his business, this is as much of a priority as the conventional farm operations.
“Working together with Alan and the Kings team is a collaborative approach which has enabled us to already see positive results in the field.”
All in the mix
As well as adhering to the AECS, Daniel notes the transition to summer cover crops is also improving overall soil health.
“The benefit of autumn sown cover crops is hard to quantify. We have a very small establishment window in Scotland unless you sacrifice the timing of sowing cash crops, so the green manure spring sown option has been an eye opener. It offers a host of benefits to these cover crops which, unless subsidised through the scheme, we would never have experienced.
“These cover crops have replaced some vegetable lets without any negative cash flow whilst having a huge benefit on soil quality and providing a great food source for pollinators. Beekeepers, local walkers and most importantly, the farmers are very happy with what they’re witnessing.
“We’re already seeing the benefits in some fields,” he notes. “Particularly where wheat follows a cover crop. There are physical improvements to the soil drainage evident, yield increase, and we’re seeing more pollinators and wildlife activity around the farms where over 100ha grass/flower margins have been established in the last five years.”
His ‘go-to’ mix to suit the general requirements is the bespoke Super 10 Mix, particularly on the 200ha of green manure and where covers need to last through spring.
“The mix works for us as it offers a multi-species and crop family blend,” says Daniel.
“We’ve seen the benefits it can have to soil improvement and it provides a diverse above-ground canopy, helping a wide range of pollinators.
“It contains quinoa, berseem clover, crimson clover, common vetch, linseed, buckwheat, phacelia, sunflower and rye, and has a flexible planting window, so ticks the box as our all-round mix of choice.
“It’s a big bulky cover crop, providing a wide range of benefits including different rooting depths, fixing nitrogen, providing pollen and nectar as well as improving soil organic matter when destroyed.
“We also have around 100ha of wild bird seed plots in which we use the wild bird mixes, particularly Alba and Highland. Sometimes this is alongside Poacher Maize where there is a specific game requirement,” he adds.
On some farms, Daniel explains that up to one-third of the farm remains in green cover all year, from spring through to when the next spring crop is drilled.
“We’re constantly learning what works for different rotations, field types and the scheme requirements; no doubt what we opt for in the next few years will be tailored. This is the great thing about working with Alan, as we have someone on-hand with knowledge of the mixtures or what additional species we can add in to get the best results.”
Benefiting commercial crops through AECS
“We’re finally able to utilise unproductive land to improve our local environment and benefit the surrounding crops,” adds Daniel.
“It’s great to see the results of the conservation efforts. We can see the impact this is having across the farms we manage through more farmland birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators – it’s a terrific sight to see as you’re walking crops and something that the farmers of this land really value.
“It shows farming and conservation can work in unison, allowing the commercial aspect of the farm to remain sustainable while enhancing the habitat for our native Scottish species.
“There’s a reason the industry is moving in this focused direction – it works, and hopefully the farming and conservation bodies can meet to provide great balanced incentives like this in the future.”
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