Global Agriculture

Integrate environmental features into farming systems

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19 March 2021, UK: Whilst the details of government’s support payments for arable farms have yet to be finalised, there’s a clear direction of travel that is only going to see a more important role for environmental features and sustainable farming initiatives, according to Kings Crops’ Technical Adviser, Jim Egan.

He believes growers will increasingly look for environmental solutions to some of the ongoing agronomy issues, and integrating features into their arable systems where they can enhance overall farm performance and profitability.

Jim Egan

“It’s no longer a tick box to get payments. As growers seek to rebuild the lost farm payment revenue, environmental features will have to deliver net positive gains to the system,” he advocated.

“Whether that be improving soil structure, providing pollination for flowering crops or habitat to host beneficial pest predators, for example, farmers are looking differently – and in some instances radically – at what the options can deliver in all farming systems.”

Environmental policy specialist, Mr Egan, suggests that with such thinking on a whole farm rotational approach, options such as two years of green cover to build fertility, improve soil structure and get blackgrass under control becomes a viable proposition.

Annual wildflower mix

“Whilst the stewardship scheme created some valuable habitats, from a farming perspective it simply moved the less productive headland six or 12 meters out into the field,” he suggested. “There’s now a real financial focus on getting more agronomic benefits from environmental features.”

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He cited the example of using environmental seed mixtures to create a turning headland or to square up fields, outside of any scheme, that would reduce overall costs and enable the most productive part of the field to be more profitable. 

“Where that environmental area can provide an additional positive agronomic role, there is the real makings of a genuinely Integrated Pest Management strategy for the whole farm.”

He believes growers should look to adopt new precision farming technologies to help identify areas around the farm where environmental features could deliver the greatest benefit, and to actively manage them accordingly.

Earthworm at GWCT project

At its simplest, identifying the most difficult areas to farm will focus where features could be best placed. But detailed nutrient and soils mapping could enable more targeted use of features, whilst GPS guidance can ensure they fit more effectively and efficiently with machinery operation. Recording information and mapping field observations will become ever more important.

“Integrating environmental features is now a mainstream part of the whole farm agronomy, whatever the final details of the Sustainable Farming Initiative,” advised Mr Egan. “Growers and agronomists have to build that into their decision making from here forward.”   

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