Working with AB9 and spring-sown bird seed plots this season

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In a blog published earlier this week my colleague and senior Kings technical advisor, Meehal Grint shared some useful advice on ground and plot management for game cover and wild bird seed crops, as well as new difficulties brought on by the recent bird flu outbreak.

While out on visits to farms and estates, an area we've seen particular interest is the correct establishment of AB9s and similar alternatives.

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How to best manage your AB15: Two-year sown legume fallow

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Countryside Stewardship schemes have always been part of the UK farming industry, but with the changes to Basic Payment Schemes (BPS), the future of farming is changing. A good Stewardship scheme can be an integral part of all farming businesses and is a great way to fill the gap that's caused by the losses in BPS.

When advising growers, I regularly discuss Countryside Stewardship options and how they can be integrated into the farm business. These conversations are with many types of growers who have farms of many different sizes, from large estates to smaller family run units.

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‘Work smarter, not harder’ by managing your environmental features digitally

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This is a phrase we are all familiar with – in fact, in the past few years I've rarely gone more than two conferences or webinars without someone saying it, including me. However, now more than ever it resonates with me for our industry. Growers are increasingly having to become experts in several areas: not only are you crop production specialists but also environmental managers, accountants, HR advisors and many more things to boot.

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The Environmental Land Management scheme - What does the latest update tell us?

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It's well understood that the turn of a new year often brings with it some updated farm policy. Evolving requirements, subsidy scheme adaptations and legislation are certainly nothing new.

This is the case again for 2022, only the changes ahead are some of the biggest our industry has seen. It's no understatement when we say there's a been a lot for farmers (and advisors) to digest in recent months and there are still some new policy elements to be clarified. 

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Undersowing maize – A demonstration event

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Maize is an important crop on many farms across the country, from east to west and increasingly north to south. For those growing it, however, there are some issues which can arise from bare maize stubbles left over winter and it's important to mitigate them. If left, the land can become vulnerable to surface water runoff, soil erosion and nitrate leaching.

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Making the Sustainable Farming Incentive work for your farm: Crop production and environmental management don’t need to be competitive

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At the beginning of December the government released further detail on the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and how the widescale roll-out to all growers will work in 2022.

Before we look further into the options available to growers later in the blog, it is worth emphasising from the start that the SFI offers a real opportunity for growers to align and unify their crop production goals with their environmental goals. We know that crop and food production are central to farm decision-making but, given what we've seen of the SFI so far, it appears it will be easier to farm in a way that offers environmental benefits while supporting sustainable crop production systems - and receive financial support for doing so.

So, what do we know about the Sustainable Farming Incentive?

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The important role of supplementary feeding

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As a nation, I think it's fair to say we are all interested in the well-being of our wildlife, particularly those species which can often be at risk. While looking at some of the more recent bird count results published by the RSPB and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), it's clear to see that conservation efforts in the UK are starting to pay back and produce a slow but positive increase in our songbird populations. But the work is far from over.

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Maize: Season review and post-harvest soil management with cover crops

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Maize is a high-value crop with a number of uses and so it is not surprising to see that the planted area is increasing year on year. With harvest now complete, it's a good opportunity to think about the learnings from this season as well as any steps you can take to reduce overwinter soil erosion and nutrient loss following removal of the crop.

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Getting the best from your fallow

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​With more growers now getting involved with Countryside Stewardship, a key option that many are selecting is the AB15 two-year legume fallow. This option is proving to be particularly popular as growers weigh up the pros and cons of various break crops, including oilseed rape.

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A role for catch and cover crops in soil management?

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In the second blog of this soil management series, we review how catch and cover crops can play an integral role in post-harvest soil management, including the options available and how their inclusion can support stewardship. The first blog in this series focussed on pre-harvest soil management and you can read it here.

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When it rains it pours: Managing your wild bird seed and game crops

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​Unpredictable weather seems to be the order of the day at the moment. After what was a very dry and cold April, May has brought about warmer temperatures and a considerable amount of rainfall. At Kings, much of our time had been spent advising growers not to drill wild bird seed and game cover crops too early but given the drastic change in weather, we're now finding that many simply cannot get onto plots because it is too wet.

Now that we are entering the peak planting window from mid-May through to mid-June, I've compiled some timely points of advice to help you make the most of the next four weeks. 

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Stepping into a new season

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For those of you managing shoots or overseeing any sporting activity, I don't doubt that you will have had an array of challenges to contend with. With so much change it can be difficult to think about what's next, but there's still plenty to get off the ground as we look ahead to 2021/2022. As the industry embarks on a whole-farm approach to environmental land management, the ways that farmers are paid to manage the land is changing and 2021 marks the start of a new chapter for environmental policy. For farms with sporting interests, there are some considerable benefits to be seen and a lot of food for thought.

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The Big Farmland Bird Count: A celebration of wildlife and conservation work on farm

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The Big Farmland Bird Count is an enjoyable and rewarding event in the agricultural calendar and 2021 sees it return for its eighth year.

The count, organised by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), will take place between 5th-14th February during which farmers and land managers are encouraged to spend time recording the number and species of birds they see on farm. Participants share their findings via the Big Farmland Bird Count website, with the results helping the GWCT to monitor wild bird populations and record the positive effect of conservation and supplementary feeding efforts on farms across the country.

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Timing, species and methods: Considerations if you're destroying your cover crop

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How we design and manage profitable, efficient crop rotations can be influenced by the use and management of available cover crop positions within them. When incorporated well, they can lead to the introduction of wider sustainable crop establishment systems, having the potential to gradually reduce some crop inputs and the overall cost of crop establishment.

If you have a good cover crop that has been successfully absorbing available nutrients, improving soil structure and supporting soil biota, you may be wondering what to do. First and foremost, careful thought and consideration is required when planning your next move. 

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'Farming is changing': The end of the BPS era

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With 2021 now underway, we are officially at the beginning of the end of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) era. The transition to the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme has started, and we're sure that many of you are wondering what this move is going to entail.

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Supporting your farmland birds this winter

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With increasingly erratic weather patterns - this year being no exception - one thing that remains constant is the lack of food availability for farmland birds over the course of the winter and early spring months.  

When out on farm, we are often shown some really excellent wild bird seed mix plots which provide a mass of food for our seed-eating birds, but no matter how much care and attention is given to these plots, birds will invariably run out of seed by January. This is where supplementary winter feeding comes in...

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Greening post-2020: What does it all mean?

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As I'm sure many of you have noticed given the many news articles in recent weeks, there is still quite a bit of noise surrounding the change to greening rules for 2021.

While the announcement from George Eustice may have come on the 27th July, there is still an air of confusion amongst many growers, particularly in relation to current agreements and how best to plan ahead. This has been further amplified following the recent news confirming that there may now be a 'stepping stone' subsidy scheme from 2022 to cover the transition period to the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme which is due to launch in 2024.  If you're feeling uncertain about the requirements now or what to do next, we've put some answers to common questions below.

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Getting the best from your summer-sown cover crops

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As a result of the dreadful winter weather, many headlands, fields and even blocks of land were unfortunately not fit enough for spring combinable crop planting. Growers were therefore faced with two options: leave the area bare and unplanted, or plant an economical green cover crop to harvest sunlight and convert that energy into valuable biomass for the soil.

Many growers opted for the latter and, as you look around the countryside there is now a wealth of summer fallow crops on display, with the likes of sunflowers and oil radish putting on quite the show.

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Companion crops: supporting OSR establishment

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While the place of oilseed rape as a commercial break crop has been unchallenged for many years, increased pressure from cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) in many regions – coupled with other variables such as soil type, previous cropping considerations, moisture availability and variety choice – has meant that the successful establishment of the crop requires some important planning.

Fortunately though, for those considering oilseed rape in next year's rotation, there could be quite an innovative 'tool' available within the establishment 'workshop'.

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Carbon Farming: Part Three

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​In our last two carbon management blogs, we've been talking about the role agriculture plays in annual carbon emissions and the ways in which growers can reduce their environmental impact through natural capital management. 

Now, while many farmers are choosing to take progressive steps towards carbon management, the law also obligates conventional farmers with over 15 acres of land to create Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs)...

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