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Managing your shoot: Planning ahead and navigating current challenges

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Last year, those of you overseeing sporting activity contended with many challenges due to Covid restrictions. While we're still feeling the effects of the pandemic, this year has seen another virus impact the industry - bird flu.

The outbreak of Avian Influenza H5N1 (bird flu) was first reported in France last year, before rapidly spreading across Europe. An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has been in force across the UK since November and although some measures have now been lifted and recent updates indicate cases are declining, restrictions still remain in place. This means that while birds can roam outside, all keepers must continue to take effective biosecurity measures until further notice from the Government.

These restrictions are understandable but are of course affecting the industry. Game farmers are no longer able to source stock from France and many shoots are struggling to find alternative sources in Europe. As things stand it appears the early partridge season is the most affected, however, there is still hope that the later pheasant shooting season will fare better as UK-produced stock should be able to meet a large proportion of the demand. Provided cases continue to decline, the industry remains hopeful that current restrictions and export laws could be lifted. 

​Cropping plans 

Given current circumstances, sporting activities for many will undoubtedly change this season. With increasing pheasant numbers over partridges, you may want to look at drives where you'd normally have maize and consider a 'pheasant-orientated' cover instead.

Kale-based mixtures provide thicker cover, allowing for slower flushing over traditional maize partridge covers. However, these mixes can bring their own set of challenges in terms of flea beetle management and reduced weed control. If managed well though, they are a great way to incorporate more cover with a Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme – specifically AB9-compliant wild bird seed mixtures

​Managing weed

The Take-Off Mix is an innovative wild bird seed mixture with a dynamic herbicide plan

There are a few questions to ask yourself when considering weed challenges:

  • What weed problems have you seen in previous seasons?
  • Was it broad-leaved weeds, such as redshank, fat hen or thistles?
  • Was your crop suffering from an ingress of grass weeds? (i.e. rogue millet, such as foxtail millet)
  • Are you going to have a robust enough herbicide programme this season?

Remember: simply carrying on with the same mixtures you've used before isn't always the best option. Even at this time of year, you'll still be able to see signs of weeds from the previous season while out walking your plots. My advice is to take note of your observations and plan accordingly, for example; considering the likelihood of broadleaf weed problems and opting for a cereal-based mixture to accommodate.

If your crop suffers grass weeds and maize isn't the best option, you may want to look at a brassica-based mix. Our Take-Off Mix uses both brassica and cereals, has an excellent pre-emergence broadleaf herbicide programme and will help with grass weed control. This sets it apart from other mixtures and it offers excellent two-year cover. From a sporting point of view, it's considered the 'belt and braces' as it contains sorghum which is useful if flea beetle does impact the kale. 

Keeping an eye on soils

As I said in last year's blog, game cover plots, CS options and wild bird seed mixtures should be treated like any conventional crop - they need the right foundation to perform well. You can check soil health by digging up areas for physical examination, as well as doing in-depth sampling with the help of your advisor or agronomist. Knowing your soil's condition also means you can sensibly plan field activity to avoid compaction or damage.

The weather was unseasonably warm in March, with temperatures hitting 18-19⁰C in some areas. However, there were snow warnings towards the end of the month - a swift reminder to never drill too early. This is particularly true for game cover and wild bird seed mixtures which like soil temperatures between 8-12⁰C.

Sometimes there is the temptation to leave soils once worked but this is risky. The ground can easily dry out which makes it hard to create a seedbed. The best thing to do is work the seedbed down before going over with a light Cambridge roll to lock in moisture. This allows for a flush of weeds and applications of glyphosate, creating a stale seedbed prior to drilling.

If you find yourself in a situation where alternative crops cannot be drilled, I recommend drilling certain areas with perennial crops. This can lower costs over the longer term and reduce the yearly risks associated with establishing annual crops - important considering the input cost increases we're seeing across many aspects of farming.

If you can drill alternative crops, I recommend legume-based mixtures such as a summer legume mix or an annual pollen and nectar mixture. Kings has seed to suit these options and drilling either is a great way to keep roots growing through the soil, ensuring good microbiological activity and stopping the ground from slumping. A good legume crop can also reduce fertiliser requirements for next season too. Information on summer legume mixtures can be found on this page of the Kings catalogue, and more details on annual pollen and nectar mixtures can be found on this page

Multi species mix


Countryside Stewardship remains a viable option for additional funding

Since last year, there have been many developments around CS, particularly increases to payment rates. While some of you may already be in a scheme, those who aren't should consider the opportunities available. With sensible planning and advice, a good CS scheme will help with the farms' overall margin potential.

Mid Tier is open for online applications

The application window for CS opened in February and applications are now available online, including Mid Tier which was previously only available for the simplified Stewardship scheme.

Dates to remember:

  • 30th June - last date to request a Mid Tier application pack
  • 29th July - deadline to submit Mid Tier and Wildlife Offers online.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive and introduction of standards

The CS scheme will continue to accept applications for 2022 and 2023, with the final agreements going live in 2024. Alongside this, the first parts of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will be open for applications in June 2022.

There are three SFI standards available this year:

  • arable and horticultural soils
  • improved grassland soils
  • moorland.
SFI applications can run alongside current CS and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements. The initial standards will also run in tandem with the current SFI pilot, within which 938 farmers are involved until 2024. Eight standards will eventually be tested and then introduced over the coming years.

Although there's still time before the standards go live, it can be a great idea to start planning your options now. Combining a CS-compliant crop on marginal land, which will continue for the next couple of years, will help you adopt the standards more easily as they become available. You'll be able to layer them across the farm and together they'll provide extra income ahead of ELMs as the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) reduces. You can find more information on the Government website.

Kings, Frontier and SOYL have been discussing CS and SFI in various farmer meetings across the UK. A common question that came up was: "How can I integrate CS with SFI?" We're a long way off this yet but it's certainly something to consider as we move through these phases of new policy.

To learn more about the topics and questions covered in our recent farmer meetings, please keep an eye out for future blogs. We're also looking to host most workshops in the coming months.

For help with anything relating to specialist crops or environmental land management, you can get in touch with your local Kings advisor or read our 2022 catalogue.


Meehal Grint
West Midlands & Central Senior Technical Advisor


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Tuesday, 27 February 2024

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