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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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Stepping into a new season

Moir-Mix

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

Valley-Views

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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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

OSR landscape

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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Countryside Stewardship now open for 2021 agreements

Countryside Stewardshup

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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Take extra care with field operations this spring

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The rain we've experienced over the last year has left many areas very wet and soil more vulnerable to damage. A planned and careful approach to spring operations could minimise soil damage and even start remediation in some cases.

Many soils will not have adequately dried out and compaction is accentuated by tyres that are too hard and high axle weight. Every effort must be made to use the lowest appropriate tyre pressures for each field operation and to minimise total axle weights, if necessary by carrying part loads of seed and fertiliser to the field. Only radial tyres should be used, cross ply tyres and particularly the super single tyre, found on heavy goods vehicles with tyre pressures of 70 plus psi, should never be used on arable land.

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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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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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Countryside Stewardship – too good an opportunity to miss

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As we enter a period of change in agriculture, don't let niggles stop you acting to seize this huge opportunity. Recently, my wife and I had the opportunity to go out for a meal unencumbered by children. As my mind works in rather convoluted ways, our time at the restaurant had me thinking about the parallels between what we experienced and, oddly,...
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Cover crop destruction: timings, species and methods

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Nearly everyone is talking about cover crops. Soil health and ways to preserve it have been prominent topics at recent farmer meetings that I've spoken at and the area of cover crops planted post-harvest has significantly increased. This isn't really surprising given the growing focus on water quality and last January's change in Ecological Focus A...
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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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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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Post-maize opportunities

Soundborough-maize-views-3
Over the last five-to-six years, it's been clear to see an ever-increasing area of maize being grown across the UK. Maize has a number of production uses but the most notable are bio-gas and forage. With so many now taking on the crop and due to the nature of which it is grown, it's important to consider careful management while it's in the ground ...
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