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Specialist and environmental crop mixes: The importance of quality seed

When it comes to specialist mixes and crops designed to deliver specific benefits to the environment and wider farm or estate, making sure you're using high quality seed is paramount. If not, you could be looking at some unwelcome issues, increased time and effort spent managing your crops, poor performance overall and even putting the wider rotation or environment at risk.

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Could maize be the answer for your 2024 rotation?

Throughout 2023, the weather played its part for many maize growers. Adverse conditions made the task of growing a successful crop interesting to say the least.

Maize sowing was delayed in many areas due to a very wet March and April. It was then followed by drought conditions into June where the heat set maize on its way to record harvest yields. July arrived and so did the rain - just in time for cereal harvest! It almost feels like it hasn't stopped raining since.

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Take the chance to boost your forage stocks this autumn

With the relentlessly wet harvest at an end for most - or very nearly at an end - thoughts have already turned towards new season crop establishment.

This time last year, following the very dry summer, many grappled with poor conditions for sowing grass and forage and as a result quite a lot of seed remained in the shed. Our colleague, Dave Harris, did a great blog earlier this year highlighting the value in reseeding grassland and investing into new leys.

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What's all this talk about winter cover crops?

Some of you will be familiar with the use of winter cover crops and may drill them already, but for those of you still with bare land or contemplating them for the first time, there is still an opportunity to bring them into the rotation. With the recent hotter temperatures helping many areas to retain warm soils, conditions are favourable for drilling too, meaning cover could soon be bringing a host of benefits to your farm.

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Bare land – do you know what to do with yours?

There's no doubt that the start of the 2023 growing season was challenging across the country, with the wettest March in 40 years being followed by the wettest start to April in the last five. As we headed into May, ambient temperatures were still slow to rise, so I think many would agree that conditions were less than ideal this spring.

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Maize – what to think about for 2023

I think we'd all agree last year was a challenging one, with the lowest amount of rainfall ever recorded since records began. When we look at the results from last season's maize harvest, it's important to understand the notable weather patterns we saw and the effects they had.

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The benefits of cover crops – much more than just soil health

Cover cropping has become a common practice within arable rotations and as spoken about in previous blogs, this is due to the many benefits they can bring to soils. Given the current volatile fertiliser market, however, today there is much more interest in their ability to capture nutrients, particularly nitrogen. We mustn't forget the range of habitat they also provide for various insects and wildlife.

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The benefits of cover crop destruction within ELMs

February - the month for late snowfall, frosts and in some areas welcome rainfall. Wherever you are in the UK, there will be different challenges as the days lengthen. Some of those challenges are 'the office jobs' you thought you had plenty of time for but now you have more daylight, there is the temptation to shelve those tasks and get on the field. Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) application windows also open around this time, adding even greater temptation to park those jobs.

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Celebrate 10 years of the GWCT Big Farmland Bird Count and get involved

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust's (GWCT) Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC). As the founder of this initiative, I am overwhelmingly pleased to see it is still going strong and that so many of you are continuing to take part.

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Considerations for the establishment of spring crops

Good establishment of spring crops is critical for optimising yield and getting them off to the best start also provides well-known cultural grassweed control benefits. Spring may seem a long way off but with some growers opting to drill spring wheat and barley in late autumn or early winter, considering everything from seed rates, weed control, soil management, nutrition, pests and disease will stand crops in good stead for the season.

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Maximise crop production with home-grown and manufactured nutrition

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There are good reasons to introduce home-grown nutrients into your nutrition plan. For one, if enough nutrient can be grown and captured, there is potential to increase business margins. However, the two benefits of most interest are: the degree of protection it can offer from a volatile fertiliser market and the potential to reduce carbon emissions on farm through a reduction in applied fertiliser.

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Supporting farmland birds this winter with supplementary feeding

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Supplementary feeding provides a vital lifeline for farmland birds in late winter and early spring on arable and mixed farms. It supplements crops of wild bird seed mix with additional seed such as cereal, oilseed and specialised grains like sunflowers, canary seed and millets. No matter how well wild bird seed plots are managed, they will inevitably run out of seed during late winter (December to April), a period known as the 'hungry gap'. Supplementary feeding plugs the hungry gap and enables farmland birds to enter the breeding season in a strong position.

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How can we bridge the forage gap?


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"When one door closes, another opens" - a statement we know all too well in farming. With harvest drawing to a close, efforts are now turning to sowing for the season ahead. It is great to see heaps piled high of dry grain, however, the extreme temperatures and lack of moisture have meant that livestock feed sources have struggled. On my travels around the country visiting farmers, it is clear to see how much damage has been done.

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The use of catch and cover crops

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Today, there's more emphasis on sustainable, environmentally friendly crop production systems. As a result, cover and catch crops are becoming a widely understood and embraced method for aiding soil health.

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Environmental Land Management blog series: 2/ Drawing a line in the sand and building a baseline of your soils

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This blog is the second to be published as part of our Environmental Land Management blog series. Our first entry covered some of the common questions we get from growers about the Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) and the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) specifically, as well as opportunities linked to Countryside Stewardship. You can read it here.

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Environmental Land Management blog series: 1/ We answer your questions about the scheme

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While the industry appears to have well and truly embarked on the transition into a 'new era' now, a level of uncertainty remains around the new funding opportunities and ongoing changes to agri-environment schemes.

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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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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.

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

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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Undersowing maize – A demonstration event

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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