Guidance on new greening rules for 2018 has not yet been published by RPA/Defra but the NFU was able to update arable farmers on likely implications at a recent meeting held at Ness Hall, East Ness, North Yorkshire, hosted by Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE), Syngenta and Kings.
Arguably the most controversial aspect of the new rules is a ban on use of plant protection products on Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs).
So far, many farmers have opted to meet EFA requirements by growing pulses, but the ban on chemical use on these areas makes this option less attractive.
It would be wise for farmers to familiarise themselves with alternatives, which are detailed in current BPS 2017 guidance, taking account of changes when they are published in February for 2018, advises Richard Wordsworth, NFU senior adviser BPS.
Mr Wordsworth says: “Farmers may not have ventured into other EFA options and not know how EFA rules apply with other options.”
Five per cent of arable land is required for EFAs so begin by checking whether your arable land area has changed in the past year, says Mr Wordsworth. “Have you rented any land? Arable land includes crop production, fallow and temporary grass – five years or less.”
EFA options include nitrogen fixing crops, catch and cover crops, fallow, hedges and buffer strips. Key likely changes for 2018 include an increased minimum catch crop period of eight weeks with establishment by August 20 and the catch crop being in place until at least October 14, says Mr Wordsworth.
In addition to pure nitrogen fixing crop (NFC) stands, mixtures of different NFC species; or, mixtures of NFC and other crops are also likely to be allowed as long as more than 50 per cent is NFCs when inspected.
Likely plant protection product ban periods for different EFA options are detailed in the panel below.
Weed control strategies may need to change as a result, adds Mr Wordsworth. “Farmers have perhaps used fallow to control black-grass and other weed banks. Now there’s a ban, ground can’t be sprayed in the fallow period. So think about spraying before the fallow period opens and after the end.”
For EFA fallow land enhanced with bird seed or pollen and nectar mixes, so far, seed dressings and pre-em sprays have helped these to establish and flourish, however, these can no longer be used in the fallow period, says Mr Wordsworth. “Establishing these in the autumn allows protection of plants ahead of the fallow period and could help alleviate these issues.”
Other likely changes include the EFA hedges definition which has been extended to include trees in a line. “These must be on the edge of an arable field or within five metres of arable land. One metre length = 10sq.m of area, which may be split between adjacent fields,” says Mr Wordsworth.
The buffer strip definition is also likely to be extended, he adds. “Previously it had to be adjacent to a water course – now it can include the entire field perimeter of an arable field. It can be next to a road, hedge or fence including across gateways provided they are not concrete or tarmac. But there needs to be an uncultivated strip present of at least one metre. If a hedge is being claimed for EFA, the one metre is from the edge of the hedge to the edge of a crop. 1m length = nine sq.m area.”
Another potentially tricky area is using an EFA buffer strip option next to EFA fallow. “They need to be visually different,” says Mr Wordsworth. “For example, cutting one and not the other.”
Considering seed mixtures can help growers make the most of EFAs, says Clive Wood of Kings.
Ness Hall farm manager, Max Ward describes how a Kings wild bird seed mix sown in mid-May 2017 in a heavy field not in an environmental scheme helped with soil moisture control. “It grew well. We just topped it, ploughed it in and pressed it once then came in with the Vaderstad and drilled winter wheat. It was drier after the soil structure mix which seems to have worked well.”
Mr Wood says: “This scenario was outside EFAs but it is possible to use the same seed mix which would have been able to come out after June 30 and land prepared for a first wheat.”
Contract farming four main farms, stubble to stubble –1,620ha (4,000 acres)
Managing director: Richard Murray Wells
Farm manager: Max Ward
Heavy clay to light, sandy soils
Annual rainfall: 600-700mm
Rotation based around winter wheat supported by spring wheat, barley, OSR and oats. For 2018 also growing vining peas and sugar beet.
Assist in delivering two HLS schemes and one ELS scheme.
Aim: to find ways of meeting EFA requirements which either deliver additional benefits or have a positive effect on farm performance.