Syngenta: Operation Pollinator
The partnership between Syngenta, GWCT and CFE continues to flourish as the delivery of Syngenta’s Operation Pollinator initiative brings positive benefits to farmland habitats and businesses alike.
The innovative project is improving the fortunes of farmland birds and pollinators and also raising awareness of their needs among growers across the UK and Europe. Over 1,250 hectares of farmland have been planted with the Annual Wild Flower Mix or Bees ‘n’ Seeds Mix over the last three years, which calculations show has an environmental benefit across more than 50,000ha. Feedback from growers has been positive, with many looking to increase the area planted on their farms.
“Changes in environmental stewardship and commodity prices made 2016 a tougher year for growers, but they still clearly saw value in Operation Pollinator which continues to deliver results,” says Syngenta’s environmental manager, Belinda Bailey. “The initiative is building and evolving year on year as more growers and industry partners look to get involved.”
“Kings is instrumental as one of these partners, providing seed and technical support to growers as well as maintaining trial plots of the mixes at demonstration sites for growers to see first-hand before committing.”
Meeting wildlife needs
The two seed mixtures were developed by Kings to deliver simple but valuable outcomes on-farm while meeting Ecological Focus Area requirements. The mixes work in harmony to cover the two key needs of farmland wildlife: pollen and nectar in the spring/summer and wild bird seed in winter.
• The Operation Pollinator Annual Wild Flower Mix is designed to be planted adjacent to oilseed rape crops to provide early spring flowering and act as a bridge after the rape crop has ended its peak flowering.
• The Operation Pollinator Bees ‘n’ Seeds Mix has been specifically designed to offer a prolonged source of late season pollen and nectar for insects, followed by an ample food supply and shelter for birds through the winter.
The Allerton Project
Bees ‘n’ Seeds Mix has been extremely successful for both purposes at GWCT’s Allerton Project, Leics and has fitted in effectively with the farming system.
“For the pollinators and birds, the benefits have been clear to see, with masses of activity in the quickly established habitat,” reports GWCT’s head of farming, Phil Jarvis. “The great splash of autumn colour was welcoming to the thousands of visitors who come to view the work of the Allerton Project too.”
The Bees ‘n’ Seeds mix is simple to establish, with the 20kg/ha seed rate working well through the drill compared to the low seed rates of some conservation mixes. A small amount of N when sowing encourages quick establishment and repeating three weeks later can help the brassica components to grow away from any potential flea beetle damage.
While the drilling date is flexible, care must be taken to find the optimum window for the particular year. Drilling too late is good for pollinators but time becomes short for seed to mature
in time for the farmland birds. A graminicide can also be used should couch grass or other grass weeds encroach from field margins. Herbicide use may be subject to environmental scheme provisos.
“I’ve been really pleased with how it’s developed through the season,” Phil says. “I was able to plant the mix under the fallow land option of the farm’s EFA, where it has provided a great habitat for a far wider range of wildlife. The testament has been the sheer diversity of insects and birds that we have seen benefitting from the area."
Green headland mix
In an extension of the Operation Pollinator initiative, a 2016 pilot project has shown positive results after sowing green cover crops on potato and root vegetable crop headlands. These headlands are typically left uncropped to aid management and harvesting of the cropped field area, but the bare soil is left dangerously exposed to erosion or damage by headland-turning of heavy machinery, can become a weed burden and have little or no ecological value.
To assist the project, instigated and supported exclusively by ASDA growers through the IPL supply chain, Kings created a bespoke multifunctional mix that not only supports pollinators but benefits potato and vegetable crops too. The mix helps to maintain and potentially improve soil health on field headlands, benefitting the following crop, management of the potatoes and the overall biodiversity health of the farm.
“Monitoring of the first year’s performance has revealed the great value of the flowering mixture for a wealth of insect life, along with the positive feedback of growers on the benefits of the mixture,” reports Belinda Bailey, Syngenta Environmental Initiatives Manager. “We are now looking to extend its use on more farms, and to continue monitoring both the ecological enhancement and the physical improvements to soils that the Green Headland Mix offers.”