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SFI: Where are we now?

Harper Adams University Student Placement Consultant, Rosie Thornton attended the SFI clinic hosted by Frontier and Kings Seeds recently. Her takeaways from this interesting morning are as follows:

Background Information

  • 3-year agreements which can be amended every 12 months.
  • Quarterly payments.
  • Lots of assessments are being done via satellite.

SFI vs. Countryside Stewardship

  • SFI is more flexible than Countryside Stewardship à there is a lot of emphasis on meeting the aim within each SFI action.
  • DEFRA has put less rules in place regarding the method in which farmers must do each action and want farmers to use their judgement as long as what they do will meet the action’s aim.
  • Having said this, there is recommended guidance for each SFI action, and it is wise to follow that as a ‘safety net’ so if anything fails and DEFRA start asking questions, you are able to tell them that you did what they advised otherwise they may question about why you did what you did.
  • It is also very important to keep evidence of everything you do. This scheme is heavily evidence-based and keeping evidence such as photographs and receipts (e.g., for seed) will help to prove that you are trying to meet the aim.
  • The structure of SFI is more “if they don’t say you can’t, then you probably can”.

Soil Actions

SAM2 – Multi-species winter cover crop:

  • This includes sowing a mix of seed that is made up at least 2 species from different families which are:
    • Legumes
    • Brassicas
    • Grasses
    • Cereals
    • Herbs
  • There are no rules regarding the proportion of this mix so it could be anything from 50:50 to 90:10, as long as the receipt for the seed shows that it is a mix that meets the criteria, you will be able to evidence that you are meeting the aim for this action.
  • Volunteer cereals do not count as the second species, there must be at least two species in the mix that is drilled.
  • It must be established and in the ground before the winter months in order to meet the action’s aim (this is from beginning of December to February) but you are able to ‘destroy’ the cover crop up to 6 weeks before the beginning of February to aid establishment of spring crops.
  • Advice regarding grazing & SAM2:
    • Allowed to graze the cover crop over winter.
    • Must not over-graze the cover crop (e.g., to the ground) otherwise this will be seen as failing to meet the action’s aim.
    • Therefore, recommended to use back-fencing/block-grazing to keep animals moving along the crop to prevent over-grazing.
    • Also recommended to use a grass in the seed mix if planning on grazing it over winter as grass will “always appear green” and it will not appear to be as over-grazed as other crops.

SAM3 – Herbal Leys:

  • Not much was spoken about regarding this action, but it was highlighted that there is more guidance on what the seed mix must be for this option than SAM2.
  • The payment is also slightly less than other similar options within SFI as you can graze or cut this option.

Nutrient Management Actions

NUM3 – Legume Fallow:

  • Has been amended recently to become a rotational option therefore it can be used as a break crop.
  • Must include at least 6 flowering species, including legumes.
  • There must be flowering plants from late May to meet the aim.
  • Cannot cut or graze this option unless it is to control blackgrass or annual grass.
  • The advice given to us was not to sow in spring but to establish it in autumn and use it as a true break crop and move yearly.
  • The risk of sowing in spring is that there may not be enough flowering plants by late May, and you will fail to meet the action’s aim.
  • The only time you can cut and remove the crop from the field is after it has been established for the year/2 years and you are removing it to bring the field back into rotation and the legume fallow has been moved to another field.

Hedgerow Actions

  • Woodland Trust are currently giving out free tree packs which you can use to boost hedgerow trees to meet the HRW3 (Maintaining Hedgerow Trees) criteria which is an average of 1 per 100m of hedge across the whole farm.
    • For example, if you have 500m of hedges that are eligible for HRW3, you must have at least 50 hedgerow trees across the farm to be able to claim the full 500m.
  • You can only count internal hedges for HRW3 and must have management control of both sides.
  • If you put hedgerows in HRW1, 2 or 3, you are also eligible for CS Capital Grants for laying, coppicing, and gapping.
  • Be aware that you may need to submit an RLE1 form if you include hedges in your application that are not already on the RPA hedge layer.

Buffer Strips

  • This option is for 4-12m buffer strips, can have over 12m but will only be paid for up to 12m.
  • These strips cannot be used for storage, regularly vehicular access or turning à there must not be any visible tracks on these strips and it is important to bear in mind that DEFRA are using satellite to carry out assessments so any tracks will show in grass.
  • These strips must be buffering an existing landscape feature:
    • Ditches
    • Woodland
    • Hedgerows
    • Rivers
    • Streams
    • Some heritage features.
    • Can also be placed next to a track to prevent run off or next to a fence if the fence is in place to protect a wildlife feature.

Integrated Pest Management Actions

IPM3 (Companion Cropping):

  • Must meet at least one of the four aims:
    • Supporting IPM approach (suppressing weeds/acting as trap crop)
    • Provide habitat for birds/insects.
    • Manage nutrient efficiency.
    • Protect soil and improve its condition.
  • Rotational option
  • The companion crop does not have to be present for the full growing period.

IPM, NUM, SAM Management Plans

  • IPM and NUM Management Plans needs slightly more information for SFI such as a paragraph at the end where the advisor provides insights and advice on how to maintain and improve current conditions.

EVIDENCE!

  • Photographs (drilling, crop establishment, crop damage)
  • Receipts (for seed etc.)
  • Maps (e.g., hedges, fields)
  • Soil Reports

New Mindset

  • DEFRA’s approach to SFI was to leave the method to farmers’ own good judgement if they achieve the actions’ aims BUT… if farmers start to ask too many questions and find too many loopholes, they will put rules in place despite not wanting to.
  • DEFRA rules are in place to try to encourage farmers to help their own pocket:
    • g., organic matter testing can help performance and improve nutrient use efficiency and understanding of which fields have more run-off etc.

Key Points

  • Make sure you read and understand the aim as meeting the aim is the key to success.
  • Keep evidence! It is very important to be prepared for checks and inspections.
  • SFI is not prescriptive à general rule of thumb when approaching the actions is “if it doesn’t say you can’t, then you can”.
  • SFI does not have the same set of “firm rules” that we are used to with other environmental schemes.
  • Following the recommended guidelines for each action will provide a “safety net” if anything fails and DEFRA starts to ask why the farmer did what they did.

If you would like advice on how you can apply for SFI and what options would suit your business, then contact the Wilson Wraight office for more information.

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What is the farm for? IAgrM National Farm Management Conference returns

The annual National Farm Management Conference, organised by The Institute of Agricultural Management (IAgrM), is returning to the QEII Centre in London on Tuesday 7 November, 2023.

With the intriguing theme: ‘What is the farm for? Technology v Tradition: The Future of Agricultural & Environmental Management,’ this year’s conference promises to take a deep dive into pressing questions around the purpose of farms in light of the climate crisis, and the convergence of regenerative agriculture with modern agri-tech.

Hear insights from industry experts

The conference boasts an impressive lineup of industry experts who will share thought-provoking discussions and perspectives to unpack the central theme.

 

Sessions and speakers include:

  • Professor Sir Charles Godfray, Oxford University: Exploring the issue of agriculture as both problem and solution for climate change
  • Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network: Discussing strategies to reverse biodiversity loss caused by intensive agriculture
  • Will Jennings, CEO, Rabobank: Providing a macroeconomic overview of farming and supply chain industries
  • Joseph Keating, Co-op Agricultural Manager: Leading a session on how regenerative food production can impact supply chain procurement policies
  • Regenerative Farmers and Agronomists: Including Paul Carrott, Will Oliver, Paul Cherry, and Ed Brown, head of Agroecology at Hutchinsons, who will share their experiences on implementing regenerative farming at scale
  • Aidan Connolly, Managing Director, Kincannon and Reed: Offering a transatlantic take on agricultural technology from the USA.
  • Sarah Bell, British Farm Data Council: Discussing the ownership of farm data

Addressing climate change and biodiversity loss

The conference will tackle two critical issues facing humanity: climate change and biodiversity loss. By exploring the relationship between food production and environmental protection, attendees will gain valuable insights into how agriculture can balance these demands and contribute to solving these challenges.

 

Regenerative farming: transforming agriculture and supply chains

Are we seeing a return to traditional farming with the emergence of the regenerative movement? Experts will discuss how farmers can transition to regenerative practices, including the impact on food supply chains, procurement policies and practical examples of successful transformations.

Opportunities and challenges with technology

Debating technology’s role in agriculture will be a key focus, examining the opportunities and barriers preventing its widespread adoption. Participants will gain a deeper understanding of how technology is revolutionising farming and shaping the industry.

A golden opportunity to network, to be inspired and expand your knowledge

The National Farm Management Conference 2023 offers a unique opportunity to engage with industry leaders and contribute to discussions on the most pressing issues at the forefront of agriculture. Don’t miss this ground-breaking event that seeks to balance food production and environmental stewardship.

To book tickets and view the list of speakers, visit iagrm.com