Welcome to our blog, where Kings' advisors will post regularly with topical views and advice. Subjects covered will be wide-ranging and include game cover, conservation crops, green cover, forage crops, stewardship, compliance and changling legislation.

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 8th December 2017


Simplified Offers for new Countryside Stewardship Agreements

The complexities of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme have been well documented. They range from an over-complicated application process and onerous evidence and record-keeping requirements, to difficult to navigate online guidance and delays in agreement offers.

In a recent announcement on the GOV.UK website, it seems that DEFRA and Natural England have been listening to the concerns of growers. Now, they are offering several streamlined application processes to make Countryside Stewardship more attractive to farmers.

What do the offers include?

There will be four new offers:

  • Online Arable Offer
  • Lowland Grazing Offer
  • Upland Offer
  • Mixed Farming Offer

Paperwork for the new offers will be simplified and the evidence checks streamlined. Crucially, the new offers are non-competitive too, so if you meet the requirements you are guaranteed a scheme. In addition, The Hedgerows and Boundaries Grant will receive additional funding which means the maximum grant that can be applied for will double from £5,000 to £10,000.

As an example, I have outlined the Arable Offer in detail below to give you a flavour of what the new offers are like. More details of all the offers can be found online

The Arable Offer

There are three categories of options. Growers must pick at least one option from each category.

  • Category one (a minimum of 1ha of these options per 100ha of application land is required and there is no maximum)  – nectar flower mixes, flower rich margins
  • Category two (a minimum of 2ha of this option per 100ha of application land is required and there is no maximum)  – winter bird food
  • Category three (no minimum or maximum) – management of hedgerows, skylark plots, nesting plots for lapwing, enhanced overwintered stubble, cultivated areas for arable plants, supplementary winter feeding for farmland birds, 4–6metre buffer strips on arable land, buffering in-field ponds and ditches 

Kings can support you

Kings are in a unique position to help growers gain access to these new Countryside Stewardship grants. We can provide advice on which options will fit well into your existing farm business and draw up applications for both the new simplified offers and the existing Mid-Tier arrangements.

 

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14Clumps July 2012 2Untitled

 

We can also provide option establishment advice, as well as on-going option management support and provide all the seed you require for the options that you choose.

Please feel free to talk to us about this exciting new opportunity to provide a stable farm income in these times of uncertainty, as well as help increase the diversity of wildlife on your farm at the same time.

Neil Harris

Neil Harris
MyCompliance Technical Advisor


1st December 2017


Get a precise focus on your EFAs  

Changes are ahead for Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs). However, by taking a more precise approach to tailor the farm areas allocated to EFAs and choosing longer term crop options, they still represent a fantastic opportunity to improve biodiversity and the farm’s bottom line.

EFAs have hit the headlines due to the imminent removal of the use of Plant Protection Products (PPPs) in 2018. As a result many of us will be looking for a replacement for nitrogen fixing crops which have been a relatively simple to implement option. Without PPPs growing pulses will not be viable, so how do you identify which options will help fulfil your 5% EFA requirement?

Precision data to support EFA decisions 

EFAs present the opportunity to deliver an ‘ecological’ version of set-aside and with careful planning they can deliver great benefits for farmland wildlife, protect our valuable soil and water resources and improve the profitability of a farm business. So how do you ensure you get the best value from EFAs with the changes ahead? 

Well, precision farming can help!  For many growers access to yield maps, soil type zones and nutrient maps are essential factors in on-farm decision making.  These can also help identify the areas of each field that don’t deliver the required revenue to be profitable and this data can then be used to help fulfil the 5% EFA requirement.  Why farm parcels of poor productivity at a loss, when you can include them within your EFA requirement instead?

map

SOYL map – Your precision farming maps are a good first point of call to identify poor yielding land that
may be better utilised to fulfil your EFA requirements going forward.

Previously, growers would manually look to place habitat features on field boundaries or in awkward corners. Now, with SOYL’s precision farming application MySOYL, farm areas can be viewed and analysed online to help growers earmark strips, blocks or whole fields to be included in their EFA commitment. With insight from the online MySOYL site you can take the worst of your land out of production (it could be shaded by woodland, have thin brows, clay caps, be at risk of water logging etc). Take this approach and suddenly the area you are farming is delivering much more effectively. Farming your arable crops efficiently also means you are able to farm your habitat options efficiently too.

A simple comparison of crop performance from yield maps, soil potential from soil type zones and fertiliser costs from nutrient maps can all be done in MySOYL.  This helps to identify land that consistently performs well, as well as areas that consistently perform below average and lend themselves to EFA.

Choosing alternative crops for the EFA

The removal of PPPs within EFAs means that longer term options will now become more attractive. These include nectar flower, herb rich leys and grass/wildflower mixtures – which in turn sees excellent pollinator habitat introduced and greater benefits to the surrounding arable crops – the ideal scenario.  Careful siting may also help protect watercourses to reduce diffuse pollution and the loss of valuable soil particles.

It’s true that pollinator mixtures require investment to begin with. Seed costs will be in the region of £140/ha and establishment costs will need to be considered to ensure they reach their full potential but once up and running, they may well go on to deliver benefits for 4-10 years. Taking the long term gains into account means that costs are effectively minimal overall.

Claire Norfolk combine and PN

Nectar flower can be a good mix to use on EFA Fallow land

Don’t overlook the benefits you can gain from using EFA fallow as a means to manage blackgrass or soil structural issues.   Through SOYL’s services you can soon allocate a rotational approach to EFA deployment by taking poor land out of production for possibly two to three years and then bringing it back into the rotation. This can be a good way of taking proactive management in hand and ensuring the next crop can be a rewarding, high quality first wheat after a three year break. 

What should you do next? 

Consider the crop production approach to your EFA option selection and integrate your precision farming tools to make best possible business decisions. To help you find out more about how to get the best from your EFA options in 2018, Kings is working with Syngenta and the Campaign For The Farmed Environment to host EFA events which you can attend over the coming weeks in Yorkshire and Berkshire

Richard Barnes             Simon Parrington

 

 

 

  

 


Richard Barnes                       Simon Parrington
Kings Sales Manager               SOYL Commericial Director

For specific advice for your business related to this blog or any other aspect of crop production get in touch with Kings.


1st December 2017


Top tips if you’re starting to supplementary feed

As temperatures plummet across the UK this week – and for pretty much the first time this winter – it’s timely to begin spreading supplementary seed in key areas across the farm for our farmland birds.

Sown wild bird seed mixtures may continue to do their job at this time of year but as they are depleted, many birds are at risk of starvation later in the winter. As food turns scarcer and birds become more vulnerable, they rely on farmers spreading supplementary seed well into April to help cover them through the so-called ‘hungry gap’.

With most agri-environment schemes in England stipulating that feeding should begin from 1st December, it’s important to check your agreement details now to ensure compliance and payment later next year. If you’re considering starting, here are my ‘top tips’ to bear in mind: 

Location, location, location

Firstly, consider how many areas you would like to feed. You should ideally aim for two or three locations which are well spread across the farm but make sure they are easily accessible so the task does not become too time-consuming. The majority of agri-environment schemes require at least two different feeding areas – check your own agreement prescriptions to be sure.

Most of the seed should be spread on trackways or other hard-standing areas where it is easily visible to birds. Such surfaces also help to stop the seeds rotting down too quickly. Where possible, choose sites near to existing plots of sown wild bird seed mixtures (as the birds will be used to feeding here) and next to hedgerows to help them evade avian predators. Roger Mann (pictured) of Littleworth Farm has an ideal location on his trackway alongside hedgerows. 

farmer

Avoid feeding near farm buildings or watercourses to discourage vermin.

Be flexible

The number of farmland birds visiting feeding areas will vary through the winter. Colder snaps tend to encourage greater activity, whereas a warm spell can lead to reduced seed consumption. In order to avoid waste and reduce the risk of vermin, you should be prepared to increase or decrease the amount of seed you spread accordingly.

How to feed

You may have your own preferred method for feeding – I know some farmers use slug pelleters, spread by hand or (like Roger in the photo) you might just cut a bag and empty it off the quad bike! There really is no right or wrong answer but in my experience, I’ve found the best results are when seeds are thinly spread over a length of around 100 metres. Note that some hopper feeding can be undertaken (usually only around 10% of the total amount in agri-environment agreements is permitted), but most of the farmland birds that I have seen prefer to feed in an ‘open’ environment with seed spread on the ground.

Leading the way for supplementary feeding

Kings supply a wide range of supplementary feeding products, from a large range of seed and mixes (catering for all agri-environment needs) to specially designed vermin-proof Perdix supplementary feed buckets that can be fixed off the ground. 

bookperdix

This year, we also have the new Weatherproof Supplementary Feeding Record to make record-keeping simple and to serve as a useful reference tool during any agri-environment inspections. As part of any Stewardship scheme in England, you will be required to note down the amount and mixture of supplementary seed used, the feeding location, the method of feeding and all feeding dates. This book enables that information to be stored easily in one place, while also including some handy tips and a useful bird ID chart that covers some of the species you might see! 

Spread the word

Supplementary feeding is not only essential for our farmland birds when food resources are scarce in mid to late winter, but can be extremely rewarding for farmers too. Birds often respond very quickly and I have yet to meet a farmer who isn’t visibly delighted to see clouds of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and Linnets gorging the seed they have put out through the winter!

If you want to start supplementary feeding for the first time, would like expert advice, are interested in adding the option to your agri-environment agreement or want more information on any of the Kings products above, please get in touch with the Kings team.

 

Matt Willmott, Kings technical advisor

For specific advice for your business related to this blog get in touch with Kings.


2nd October 2017


Grey partridges need you

After a long and protracted harvest for many we are now seeing fields cleared leaving land and farm managers who have an interest in farmland wildlife with a hugely rewarding and valuable task to undertake... counting grey partridges!Grey partridgev2

The grey partridge is a key farmland bird indicator species and helps to show that your hard work in terms of habitat management through voluntary work or agri-environment schemes is paying off. Counting greys will give you a great measure of the general biodiversity of your land. The general consensus is that if grey partridges are doing well on your farm, then all other farmland wildlife will be thriving too.

The voluntary Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Grey Partridge Count Scheme has been running since 1933 and provides a unique insight to the fortunes of a bird species which evokes great passion and enthusiasm among those working to encourage and support them on farm. Once you’ve gathered information you can add it to this count.

Ok, I have a few on the farm what do I need to do?

Access the online form provided by the GWCT here and start to record what you see on your travels round the farm. Please be aware that by their very nature grey partridges can be aloof so be patient and try and build up a picture of what you see over a couple of weeks.  Whilst you are on your travels you can also record broods of wild pheasants and French partridges which is a rewarding exercise in itself.

I haven’t got time to spend ages counting – can I be bothered?

This is the beauty of the scheme – you don’t need to spend hours and hours at it.  The edge of dawn and dusk provide the perfect time to observe and count wild grey partridges. From our own experience of counting partridges at Kings the best plan is to keep a running record of sightings on a map and then you can soon narrow down fixed coveys and avoid double counting. Encourage all those who work on the farm to keep an eye out and report in what they see.  Your gamekeeper, contractor, shepherd, stockman and spray operators are all extra pairs of eyes.  It’s great to get everyone on farm involved in measuring the fruits of their labour. Habitat crops often need just as much TLC as the farm crops and many of these people on the farm will have been involved in ensuring crop success.    

I used to find counting really easy – I know they are there but they seem to vanish. What’s changed here?

Good farmland habitat consists of margins, blocks of wild bird seed, game crops and nectar flower plots all of which provide excellent cover for partridges to hide up in. The additional challenge for partridges is the increasing prevalence in many regions of kites, buzzards and ravens. These put pressure on birds who find the best method of survival is to keep their heads down and stay in the cover! This highlights the importance of having several pairs of human eyes looking for them on day to day travels as it builds up a more accurate picture.

Ok, but I haven’t seen a pair of greys on the farm for a couple of years surely that doesn’t count?

The GWCT Partridge motto is ‘Every One Counts’. Even if you haven’t got any birds on the farm now the information is priceless to the Trust who can continue to develop their data set to support current agri-environment policy and develop future guidance. If they know you haven’t got birds but your neighbour two farms away has that presents a great opportunity to work together to support future stocks.

I have completed my count and I am pleased with what I have seen. What can I do to look after them?

Winter dispersal is common with grey partridges; it’s what they do! However, there are a few simple things you can do to look after them:

  • Retain as much cover over winter in the areas you see them as possible. This gives them overhead sanctuary from raptors and corvids.
  • Ensure there is food available for them from now until late spring. Stubbles are valuable but supplementary feeding or a few hoppers in key areas will look after them as natural food resources run out.
  • If you are shooting and only have the odd covey about make sure your guns are aware and briefed to not shoot them! If you find a covey in a drive try and let them out of the side so they don’t have to run the gauntlet.

I am not sure if I want to do this Partridge Count but am keen to learn more – who can I contact?  

The GWCT team have a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. where you can send in your queries or questions. Alternatively you contact the Kings team for further details and guidance on getting the best from your farm habitats. 

Richard Barnes

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Barnes, Kings sales manager

For specific advice for your business related to this blog get in touch with Kings.


25th September 2017


Accepting EFA changes... and embracing them! 

The latest Ecological Focus Area (EFA) changes announced for 2018 have caused much speculation among my colleagues and growers too.  In particular, people have been very animated about the loss of crop protection products within EFAs, with some seeing it as reducing the value of EFA options on farm. Meanwhile, DEFRA termed this as a complete BAN which has only added fuel to this fire.

Whilst the changes may be significant in some areas it is worth bringing a few things into perspective and remembering that although change is ahead, there are still good opportunities to be had with EFA.  Let’s not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’!

Where a grower has more than 15ha of arable land, then the 5% area allocated to EFA features is required – end of, no question. The challenge is to continue making the most of this 5% of land, even without PPPs.

Growing nitrogen fixing crops, previously a simple means of delivering EFA for many land managers, becomes more challenging without glyphosate to destroy them. Consequently, many are likely to withdraw this crop from their EFA requirements if that happens.   This in turn sends growers searching for the next ‘broad hectare’ option to fill that gap and there are a few options worth considering.

Catch and cover crops

For many, catch and cover crops will be the obvious choice. This could be a very positive step for the farm business, bringing as it does a range of benefits for soils. It may even be the factor that gets people who have so far been ‘sat on the green cover fence’ involved.

All this is great but what are the options for destroying green cover crops should PPPs not be allowed within EFA option schedules in the future?  Good question, and there are a number of routes:

  • Fully invert/cultivate the crop. Although this won’t fit with a no/min-til system. Deep-rooted crops such as tillage radish will be best avoided here.
  • Choose frost sensitive species within the approved list (vetch, mustard, phacelia) so that when spring arrives there is little crop left to destroy. However, EFA rules dictate the need for a cereal to be included too, such as oats or rye.
  • Graze crops down to bare ground.
  • Consider using a crimper to bruise/damage the crop prior to drilling a following crop. This is technique widely used in Europe and by many organic growers in the UK. Kings is working within a research group investigating the methods and best practice within this emerging area of crop destruction.

Longer term fallow optionsEFA changes v2

These can include planting nectar flower or flower rich mixtures to benefit pollinators. This can be done on a field scale, within field areas or as a field margin; whatever works best for your purposes. This is a great way of utilising less productive land to deliver pollinator habitat. A well established nectar flower mix can deliver for 3-5 years whilst a flower rich grass mix could be left for many years with minimal management once established making it very cost effective with high delivery for farm wildlife.

Benefitting a shoot

If you have sporting interests and want to benefit the shoot, as well as offering support to farmland birds, you can establish wild bird seed mixtures in autumn or spring.

With the withdrawal of PPPs the autumn establishment window is becoming more attractive, as this reduces the challenge of spring weeds such as redshank and fat hen. 

Spring planting without PPPs will require more care but great results can still be achieved. My advice would be to ensure seedbeds are well prepared using a stale seedbed technique with planting delayed until late May through to mid July. Getting a crop off to a flying start is critical so that it can get away from weed and pest challenges.

Longer term cover can be used to aid sporting interests. Plant a mix containing reed canary grass and perennial chicory. Poacher Leave-it contains perennial, biennial and annual species and is a popular choice where long term cover is required. Its numerous benefits include providing wild game with sanctuary from overhead predation; delivering nesting and brood rearing habitat; offering winter holding/driving cover and providing a windbreak to conventional game cover/wild bird seed mix areas.

So rather than dwelling on what has been and gone within EFA, take the opportunity to look at what’s still on offer and consider how you can adapt to develop a legislative requirement into an asset for the farm business and the wider farmed environment.    

Richard Barnes

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Barnes, Kings sales manager

For specific advice for your business related to this blog get in touch with Kings.


12th September 2017


Hedgerows and woodland – Get ahead, get a planGeorge new hedge late summer side v2

The annual period during which landowners are prevented from cutting hedges under cross-compliance recently came to an end. With this important annual restriction in place to protect wildlife from 1st March until 31st August, it’s tempting to set about hedge cutting in earnest come September.  

However, there are very good reasons to be selective with your hedge trimmers until January, or even February, to improve the biodiversity of your land.

Why are hedgerows so important?

Hedgerows serve a valuable purpose during the winter offering shelter and food for wildlife. Trim back too vigorously in autumn and you, and wildlife on your land, may pay later.

Delaying or staggering cutting will provide farmland birds with a source of food in the form of berries during the ‘hungry gap’. This is the hardest time for birds during harsh British winters, but the rewards for preserving hedgerows go far beyond that.

Hedgerows and woodland edges offer massive benefits to a whole host of wildlife. They are a key element to farmland ecology providing habitats for various species and a number of additional benefits. For example, tussocky grass underneath a well-established hedgerow will give a home to ground-nesting birds and small mammals. These mammals will provide feed for birds of prey such as barn owls and kestrels. Meanwhile, the mammals’ disused burrows will in turn provide overwintering habitat for vital pollinators such as the queen bee and predatory beetles. 

It’s all part of a fantastic farmland ecosystem that starts with a thriving hedgerow!

Come spring, hedgerows are the earliest source of pollen available to pollinators. A sympathetic autumn/winter hedge cutting plan will ensure fruit and pollen production is optimised. Some species, such as hawthorn, flower only on the second or even third year after cutting. Rotating hedgerow cutting in such situations, so that everywhere isn’t cut back at once, will ensure a constant food source.

Hedgerow cuttingBerry hedge 2

Before taking a blanket approach, assess the current performance and situation of each section of hedgerow.  In this way you’ll be able to create a management plan appropriate to each section. Your aim should be to cut back where essential and delay wherever possible to preserve hedgerows as much as you can.

Woodland planning

Management of woodland is another area that shouldn’t be overlooked.  Thinning, coppicing and clear felling will all help ensure there isn’t a monoculture of tall trees without an understorey for woodland birds and other wildlife. Think about your ride management. Cutting swathes slightly deeper will create warm pockets in the sun and away from the wind.  These will produce mini habitats for butterflies and pollinating insects in the summer months.

Planting hedgerows and woodland

Given the importance of hedgerows and woodland to the whole farm ecosystem the planting of new hedgerows and gap filling is vital. There are various grants available to support this through the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission (FC) - although the window for FC application this year’s now closed.

Grants can be used on an estate to create corridors between existing woodlands or, on sporting estates, to link woodland with cover strips.

So before you fire up the hedge trimmer this autumn, take a closer look and see where you might be able to delay cutting until later in the winter.

Meehal Grint

 

 

 

 

 

Meehal Grint, Kings technical advisor

For specific advice for your business related to this blog get in touch with Kings.

 

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