24 September 2021, UK: Expert advice has helped a Kent farming business successfully overhaul its environmental schemes, helping it prepare for changes to the way land management is being rewarded while delivering a significant uplift in income.
As working farm manager at Burden Bros Farms’ 1300ha arable and livestock enterprise, Ryan McCormack spends most of his time focused on the day-to day running of the business.
Like many farmers, this leaves him little time for other matters. However, most of the farmland is sited in a very rich environmental area on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, with more opportunities than most to benefit from associated schemes.
Given the increasing need for such schemes, environmentally and economically, Ryan relies on his experienced adviser, Peter Setterfield of Agrovista Rural Consultancy, to ensure the business extracts the maximum benefit from them.
“Peter is an invaluable addition to the team,” Ryan says. “He is responsible for all the paperwork that enables us to farm and deals with all our stewardship programmes.
“He has recently designed two contrasting Mid-Tier Countryside Stewardship plans that have brought significant benefits across the whole farm.”
The 850ha arable enterprise had been in Entry Level Stewardship, with a mix of grass strip and several hectares of wild bird seed mix and nectar flower mix.
A further 200ha of grazing land at Mocketts Farm, consisting of wetland grazing marsh and salt marsh, included various Higher Level Stewardship and ELS habitat schemes.
After carrying out a comparison budget, Peter recommended three whole-field Mid Tier options for the arable area – two-year sown legume fallow, legume and herb-rich swards, and enhanced overwinter stubble.
Each of these now accounts for about 25% of the 200ha under Mid Tier; grass strips and seed mixes make up the rest.
The advice reflected Agrovista Rural Consultancy’s aim to work hand in hand with the agronomy advice customers receive, choosing the most suitable environmental options that also help maximise farm productivity.
Peter says: “We focused on whole-field options as they offer the best returns, fit well with the farm’s cropping and provide important habitat and soil health benefits.”
Whole-field options have also enhanced the arable rotation and blackgrass control, says Ryan. “They stack up economically, compared with oilseed rape that might break even at best and first wheat full of blackgrass.”
The Mid Tier application on grassland at Mocketts Farm was far from straightforward.
“Some of the best habitat for breeding waders can be found here,” says Peter. “Unfortunately, the CSS Priority Map did not include these areas. After discussions with and co-operation from Kent Natural England the CSS Priority boundaries have been adjusted, which has allowed the breeding wader option to be chosen. This has been really worthwhile.”
Management of wet grassland for breeding waders option now accounts for 70ha of Mocketts Farm. A further 30ha is in the permanent grassland with very low inputs option.
The switches to Mid Tier have more than doubled the income the farm was receiving from previous schemes and enabled enhanced management of this important environmental area and mixed arable landscape.
The correct choice of environmental scheme options is also key to accessing payments to help offset the decline in BPS and to prepare the business for future environmental policy, says Ryan.
“One of the key things for me is that Peter and Rob Purvis, my agronomist, work as a team. The three of us sat down together when we were considering Mid Tier to see how we could best make it work.
“Rob and I share a passion for improving soil health and air and water quality. We are driving this business forward, looking at regenerative techniques, trying different establishment methods, assessing biostimulants and how all this affects our carbon footprint.
“Peter’s expertise is evident in the way he has designed the Mid Tier scheme to fit in with those aims, advising on the best options and overseeing compliance with BPS and NVZ nutrient planning while looking after the administration work to ensure everything goes smoothly right through to implementation and beyond.
“I truly believe I have the two best professionals in their respective sectors on board, and I feel the business is in very safe hands.”