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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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Late nitrogen management

If you read my recent blog, you'll be fully informed of how to check the nutrition status of your crop. Attention now turns to final nitrogen applications which will need to be as efficient as possible to make up for this seasons low levels of soil nitrogen.

Your crop requires as much support as possible right now and in this blog I'll be guiding you through the techniques you could implement to ensure this.

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Managing your soils this season

There are a number of topics this blog could cover: the weather, inputs, grain prices, environmental options… the list goes on. But, as we make our way through this spring, I think it's worth acknowledging the continuously changing agricultural landscape and some of the routes for navigating it. I think we'd all agree that in our industry it often feels different from one day to the next, with new opportunities and challenges abound all while we're simultaneously trying to digest the latest updates.

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REMINDER: The new urea application rules for England are almost here

Many of you will be aware of the urea stewardship scheme due to come into force in England from 1st April 2024, however, for some there are still questions as to what the new regulations include.

Back in May 2023 when an early announcement was released about the rules, I outlined everything you needed to know. In this blog, I think some of that information is worthy of a recap, particularly why Defra is focused on the stewardship of urea fertilisers, as well as a reminder of what you need to do in certain scenarios to stay compliant with the regulations. 

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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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Variable rate nitrogen trials results

As the season has been so challenging, it's great to be able to demonstrate the positive results from our variable rate nitrogen (VRN) trials which can make a difference on farm. In this blog, we'll be talking through the benefits and value of this technology, as well as how the findings from the trials can be replicated on your farm to achieve the same positive results.

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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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Providing farmland birds a lifeline this winter

As we enter early January and temperatures begin to fall, foraging time for farmland birds is at its lowest and food sources start to run out. This period is often referred to as the 'hungry gap' and usually lasts from December through to April - the hardest time for many of our beloved wild bird species to survive.

As we enter this peak period for food requirements, your carefully managed wild bird seed plots will start looking thinner and a lot of the seed will have fallen to the ground and been eaten. The good news is that growers and land managers are increasingly taking up the option of supplementary feeding, either as part of an existing Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme, or simply because it's a great thing to do.

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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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The future of Scottish agriculture payments

In Scotland, many of us have been watching the developments in government policy and funding south of the border with interest, wondering when we may begin to see similar progress. Our patience was rewarded three weeks ago when the Scottish Government released its much anticipated Agricultural Reform Route Map which outlined how farmers would receive financial support from the Government going forward.

So, what do we now know and how might it affect you and your business?

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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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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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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: 3/ Taking environmental management digital

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This blog is the third and final to be published as part of our Environmental Land Management blog series. In the previous blog, we looked at what you will need to do if you decide to enter your land into the arable and horticultural soils standard of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). You can read it here.

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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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