Important updates and advice regarding coronavirus (Covid-19)

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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Countryside Stewardship can help with difficult-to-farm areas

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In our industry, we might be forgiven for thinking 'we've seen it all' at times, but nothing could have prepared anyone for the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it is having on our lives, both at home and at work.

Reducing the risk to our customers and team is our number one priority, so we've been adopting new ways of working to make sure we're still able to support growers and provide valuable technical advice from afar. Who would have thought that a combination of phone calls, video conferences, and social media platforms could help us to safely deliver our services to farm businesses of all shapes and sizes?

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Can you benefit from bare land?

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​Although the sun is out (as I write this anyway) I recognise that many areas of land are still plenty wet enough, and getting jobs done is tricky enough without getting covered in mud as soon as you hit a waterlogged bit of ground. That said, the upside is that many growers will be reviewing cropping plans on almost a weekly basis to ensure they are reflective of current conditions. 

With potentially 50% of the UK winter wheat crop sown there remains, subject to your area, a significant proportion of land yet to be planted. Spring crop opportunities remain unpredictable so, if some bare land is looking a likely scenario for the farm on which you work, you may want to think about the opportunities associated with it.

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Countryside Stewardship now open for 2021 agreements

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First things first – the window for Countryside Stewardship applications is now open!

As of 11th February, farmers, woodland owners, foresters and land managers now have the ability to request 2020 application packs. Information and forms are available on the gov.uk website and you can also ask for your application pack by email, choosing whether to receive it electronically or by post. 

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HLS agreement extension? Think before you sign...

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If you are one of the many farmers with a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement from Natural England that is due to expire, it's likely that you will have recently received a letter inviting you to extend your contract for another year.

While this is a positive and sensible move by the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Natural England, especially while uncertainties around Brexit still unfold, it is only one option for you to consider. An 'agreement extension' may not necessarily be the best move for every farm business, or even for the wider natural environment for that matter. 

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The route to recovery

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Over recent weeks, from growers to advisors, we have all been doing our very best when it comes to taking an optimistic view when it comes to crossing our fingers for improving weather conditions. Each break in the rain was seen as a chink of light in what has been otherwise a torrid autumn when it comes to harvesting and planting progress.

All said and done it is clear now what we are faced with - crops of maize, beet and potatoes still in the ground; farmland flooded or at best waterlogged and a significant area of land previously allocated to autumn sown crops still unplanted. 

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'Precision conservation'

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'Precision conservation' is a relatively new phrase within our collective businesses and, as such, it is right to ask the question: What does it actually refer to?

For most, 'precision' and 'conservation' are two words not immediately associated with one another. In an agricultural context, 'conservation' can have us thinking wistfully of tussocky field corners and snaking wildflower margins. Of course, when you really think about it, the location of these features is never by accident. Some planning is always involved and that's when the link between the two words becomes clearer.

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If you only attend one event this winter...

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Over the last 12 years, more than 10,000 customers have attended our annual series of winter events. While we've always covered the latest innovations in precision farming, this year I'm thrilled to say that we'll be sharing some of our most varied and forward-thinking content to date.

From November through to February, we're travelling the breadth of the UK to talk all things digital crop production as part of a series of half-day events. As with previous years, we'll be sharing the latest in precision technology including our research, industry developments and the latest updates to our own tools and applications. However, in a first we'll also be sharing the floor with colleagues from Frontier Agriculture and Kings Crops

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Turning Countryside Stewardship negatives into positives

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The Kings team has delivered a series of grower workshops across a number of regions in recent weeks to provide support and insight on a wide range of land-based topics. These included getting the best from Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs), guidance on simplified offers from Natural England, and how best to integrate stewardship and sporting interests...
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Make the most of your ‘natural capital’

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'Natural capital' is a relatively new phrase within UK agriculture. We spoke about it as part of our presentations at this year's 3D Thinking seminars and it sparked a real interest amongst growers. As we explored the phrase's definition and what it meant for farmers, our audience soon recognised the importance of 'boarding the agri-environment bus...
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Results Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme (RBAPS)

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Earlier this month I attended Natural England's RBAPS (known formerly as 'Payment by Results') conference which took place in Norfolk, not far from the Kings' office at Diss. With Brexit looming, the conference was especially topical. The Rt Hon the Lord Blencathra, deputy chair of Natural England, addressed all delegates in the morning and explain...
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Stewardship can be good for any business

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This article was first published in the December issue of Three Counties Farmer .  As soon as the autumn drilling and harvest period came to a satisfying conclusion, it seems thoughts and potential decisions immediately moved to the spring. No doubt the British weather will serve up some extremities in the coming months but, in the meantime, b...
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Balgonie: an Interreg North Sea Region PARTRIDGE project

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As part of my role as a Kings advisor, one of the great things I am involved with is the Balgonie grey partridge project in Fife. Balgonie features as one of 10 Interreg North Sea Region PARTRIDGE projects and, as with the work we also support at Loddington, it serves as a demonstration site and involves us working closely with the Game and Wildlif...
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Farmer Cluster Conference 2018

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Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Farmer Cluster Conference. Held at the Birmingham and Midland Institute on 1 st November, the event was hosted by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), with support from Natural England. This year's event was the second of its kind and served as a way to bring together those who have organis...
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Supplementary feeding farmland birds

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The widespread decline of some of our most prominent farmland birds such as grey partridge, yellowhammer, tree sparrow and linnet is well known. A leading contributor to their plight is the so called 'hungry gap'; a period from December to April where there is a shortage of food in the wider countryside for farmland birds due to the natural depleti...
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It’s win-win if we work together

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​ This blog was first featured as an article in the September issue of Three Counties Farmer What a difference a day makes. It's a lovely song by Dinah Washington, originally written in Spanish by Maria Grever. It's been covered by many artists over the years and no doubt murdered on the X Factor in more recent times. Having been lucky enough to tr...
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Countryside Stewardship - is it for you?

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As I sit here writing this blog in my office, from the corner of my eye I can see a fairly substantial pile of paperwork relating to the ten-or-so Countryside Stewardship applications I am putting together on behalf of customers. Thankfully, Natural England has extended the deadline for submitting completed applications to 31 st August, so I can br...
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Best practice for warm weather and high temperatures

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With the hot and dry weather set to continue, Kings sales manager, Richard Barnes, discusses the impact for game cover and wild bird seed crops across the UK and how to manage them for best results.   Having been an advisor with Kings for 15 years, how does this year's weather compare to that of previous years? Every year has its own challenge...
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When is best to drill your game and stewardship crops?

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With the sun shining and spring positively blooming just now, many growers will be overcome with the itch to start drilling. However, it's worth asking yourself - is now really a good time to drill your game cover, wild bird seed, nectar flower and other stewardship features? Good things come to those who wait In most instances (especially for kale...
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Thoughts from the field

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Over the last two weeks, my travels have taken me as far as the Scottish Borders right down to glorious Exmoor. Along the way I've been stopping off to visit customers and present to growers, both of which have offered me a fascinating insight into where the farming, greening and sporting worlds are currently at. To better explain, I thought it wou...
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