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Winter bird food plots – considerations for spring 2024

The impacts of the recent difficult weather conditions have had some devastating effects on many farms across the country. It's no surprise the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and other public funding opportunities, such as Countryside Stewardship (CS), are at the forefront of many people's minds.

Whilst incorporating an SFI action or a CS option into your rotation can be a great remedy in the face of a challenge, there are a few important things to consider. In this blog, I'll be focusing specifically on the AHL2: Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land action in the SFI and the AB9: Winter bird food option in CS. I'll be covering some tips and recommendations for seedbed preparation, establishment, agronomy plans and methods for destruction on these options.

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

​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

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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Can you benefit from bare land?

​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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Best practice for warm weather and high temperatures

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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Thoughts from the field

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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Accepting EFA changes... and embracing them!

The latest Ecological Focus Area (EFA) changes announced for 2018 have caused much speculation among my colleagues and growers too. In particular, people have been very animated about the loss of crop protection products within EFAs, with some seeing it as reducing the value of EFA options on farm. Meanwhile, DEFRA termed this as a complete BAN whi...

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