As we move from direct support to environmentally-focused payments, the industry will face massive challenges but Hutchinsons is helping growers plan the best route forward.
The firm has established a new trial site near Warboys, Cambridgeshire, as part of its Helix initiative, dedicated to testing some of the stewardship options that will be part of the support offered under the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).
Growers will have the chance to see firsthand the traditional and exotic species that make up different seed mixes, learn how to establish them and discuss the benefits they deliver to biodiversity and soil health.
Taking place on the 16th of September, the event will aid growers in planning the next steps within the new policy framework and, reportedly, help bridge the gap that may develop in farm finances once the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) is gone.
“All farmers should be considering what they can do in terms of stewardship options now, don’t just wait until ELMS is launched in 2024,” said services leader Matt Ward. “Currently there’s a great opportunity to get two bites of the cherry by trying different stewardship options at the same time as still being able to claim some BPS.
“It is a very different world we’re looking at though, which will require growers to be more flexible about how and where they grow crops and think carefully about where stewardship options best fit into their own business.”
Exploring the options
Understanding the various options available and how they perform in real-world situations enables more informed decisions to be made, explained environmental services specialist Matt England, whose 180-hectare family farm is hosting and managing the trials.
The site is predominantly on heavier, clay-based soils, and includes spring drilled plots of 16 different species sown as straights, allowing growers to see the characteristics and growth habits of exotic species like sorghum, reed millet, camelina and quinoa, as well as more familiar names such as kale, stubble turnips and sunflowers.
“Many species will be new to a lot of farmers, so it’s interesting to see their characterises and how they grow in UK conditions. We’ve been fortunate with the rain in May coming straight after drilling, which really helped plots establish, so they should look fantastic by September,” Mr England said.
A range of seed mixes has also been established, including the two-year legume option (with and without grass) and other flowering, nectar-rich mixes that are attracting interest among farmers in existing stewardship schemes, the ELMS pilot and within regenerative agriculture.
“Weed control is one of the biggest challenges many growers face when establishing stewardship mixes, which is why we’ve included a herbicide trial of pre-ems, post-ems and a combination of both to see what works across the different species and seed mixtures,” added Mr England.
“If you can keep these mixes weed-free, it is much better for biodiversity as it allows the flowering and seed-producing species to thrive, rather than having them outcompeted by weeds.
“Ultimately, if you’re going to be putting a percentage of your farm down to these kinds of mixes now and in the future, then you’ve got to select the most appropriate options for your situation and manage them well to get the most out of them.”
The impact on soil health is another area being investigated at the site, which has been assessed before drilling to provide a baseline from which any changes can be measured.
“Many stewardship and cover crop mixes can have a beneficial impact on soil health, organic matter and biodiversity, so we hope to be able to show that change over time,” Mr England concluded.
Book your place
The Helix environmental stewardship open day takes place on Thursday 16 September, near Warboys in Cambridgeshire. Advance booking is essential, so please call Matt England on 07866 197521 or visit the events section at www.hlhltd.co.uk for more details and to secure your place.