At a recent farmers meeting, held jointly between L’Anson Farm Feeds and Hutchinsons the crop production specialists, speakers and farmers talked through the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) improved grassland soils standard – where livestock farmers were greatly encouraged to make the most of the opportunities and benefits that the soils standard presented them with.
Firstly, Matthew Powell of Hutchinsons, explained the SFI improved grassland soils standard’s four key measures which farmers are required to carry out for the introductory level:
- Assess soils and form a soil management plan. Review regularly to identify issues and remedial actions (e.g. surface pooling due to compaction addressed with methodical use of roots and targeted cultivations)
- Test soil organic matter (tests must have been done within five years)
- Apply organic matter to every parcel in the agreement at least once in three years
- Maintain 95% overwinter cover (December 1 – February 28), so no more than 5% can be bare ground, including poached land.
He also explained that the intermediate level includes all of the above, but requires a diverse sward for containing herbs and legumes to be established on 15% of land within 12 months.
“All grass is eligible, unless it’s completely unimproved for over 15 years. For this, an unimproved grassland option is due for later release,” Mr Powell added. Land can also include “a mixture of grasses, legumes, and herbs, could be reseeded or overseeded, and you can maintain an existing herbal ley to meet the requirement.” Plus, an eligible area can be moved around the farm.
Having discussed the standard’s requirements, Charlie L’Anson, of Yorkshire-based L’Anson Farm Feeds, noted that livestock farmers could really benefit from varied grassland coverings, such as red clover which is ‘particularly good for improving daily liveweight gain in lambs’. Although farmers were warned of the potential fertility issues that red clover can cause in breeding ewes, ‘so only use it as grazing mix for fattening offspring’.
Hutchinsons’ Will Foyle concluded the meeting: “Next year there will be other standards coming in for nutrient management, integrated pest management and hedgerows. We don’t know what these will involve yet, but it’s likely there’ll be more payments available for other things many farmers are doing already.”