Bold agri-environment choice takes land out of production

Robert Law on his farm

Robert Law © Tim Scrivener

Protecting and bettering the setting is a precedence for Robert Law, who has all the time made good use of agri-environment schemes throughout the 1,800ha of farmland that he oversees on the Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border.

It was this concentrate on stewardship which led to him taking the daring choice to take 17% of one farm out of production in 2021.

Over the previous 30 years, the enterprise has been concerned in a continuous programme of restoring present woodlands and hedgerows, in addition to planting new ones.

See additionally: Countryside Stewardship – key adjustments for 2023 agreements

Alongside this, pollinator mixes and farmland chicken margins have been established, habitat for ground-nesting birds has been created and species-rich chalk grassland in a website of particular scientific curiosity (SSSI) has been protected with cautious grazing.

“Our environmental commitments are simply as necessary as our farming ones. We have made them work collectively, in order that they go hand in hand, and are mutually useful,” says Mr Law, who’s internet hosting Cereals for the fifth time this yr.

Good choice on the time

Arable reversion has been used earlier than at Thrift Farm, however Mr Law recognises that what can appear a very good choice on the time does change – pointing out that the two-year rotational sown legume fallow choice AB15 appeared very engaging earlier than the Russian-Ukrainian battle.

“With wheat properly over £300/t, these choices aren’t as easy as they have been. Putting in huge tracts of AB15 at £569/ha has misplaced its enchantment, so I’m happy we didn’t go down that route,” he says

Depending on the location, having livestock makes it simpler the place there’s archaeology or an SSSI to guard, as they’re eager for these areas to be grazed, he says.

As far as his farming actions are involved, high-value crops are grown for seed and human consumption, whereas an 1,800 breeding ewe sheep enterprise is an integral half of the system and helps to maximise the use of each hectare.

Cattle are a newer introduction, with a 50-strong suckler herd making good use of stewardship grass and everlasting pasture.   

New Stewardship Scheme

Back in 2019, bringing a brand new 150ha farm into the Law Farming fold gave him the chance to take a look at how he may use a brand new Mid Tier Countryside Stewardship (CS) settlement to ship environmental advantages.

Working with Katie Hilton at Cheffins, the principle consideration at Heath Farm was the presence of a Scheduled Monument in a big arable area, which Historic England was eager to see protected.

As Ms Hilton explains, the choice was made to take 26ha out of arable production and put it all the way down to grass, utilizing the archaeological grassland choice HS2, which has a cost charge of £459/ha.

“It was a serious change, because it accounted for 17% of the farm. We additionally bought a capital works grant, which meant that we may put within the fencing and water infrastructure required to place the sheep on it in the summertime,” she says.

The dedication with HS2 is {that a} grass sward needs to be maintained over the archaeological characteristic, whereas any soil disturbance and floor harm should be minimised, she explains.

“In this case, it was straightforward for Mr Law to tackle such an formidable plan, as he strikes the sheep across the farms and makes use of the grazing for his dry ewes. Putting it into grass made sense,” she says.

Hedgerow restoration

Other choices taken up have been capital grants for hedgerow restoration and each AB8 (flower-rich margins) and AB9 (winter chicken meals), which pay £628/ha and £640/ha respectively.

“It was all designed in such a approach that we developed a community of margins that hyperlink to the realm of archaeological grassland, so there may be connectivity of habitats,” she says.

The complete farm settlement began in 2021 and the choices and grassland have established properly, with the hedgerow restoration work additionally accomplished.

Since it began, CS cost charges have gone up by a median of 30%, in a bid to draw extra farmers to enroll, with the promise of transferring into the native nature restoration stage of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

Where subsequent with Stewardship?

At a pivotal time for stewardship schemes and with the primary parts of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme on the desk, the monetary incentives to ship environmental advantages are beginning to pale compared with the doubtless returns from arable crops.

Having signed as much as his Heath Farm settlement for 5 years, Robert Law is unsure about what’s going to observe when the settlement involves an finish – likening the state of affairs to a stalemate.

“The countryside stewardship cost charges did go up, however that was earlier than the Ukraine invasion.

“It’s not clear that many extra will signal as much as these agreements whereas commodity markets are so risky and agricultural coverage is altering,” he says.

He accepts that he may go into the Sustainable Farming Incentive, however he isn’t more likely to make that call any time quickly, with charges being low and full particulars nonetheless to emerge.

“I’ve bought two large HLS/ELS schemes coming to an finish in 2023 and 2024, which I could also be provided extensions on if I don’t make any adjustments.

“Otherwise, I’ve simply signed mirror agreements for different Mid Tier agreements for the following 5 years, though they might be terminated earlier than that,” he says.

Making the fitting choices about subsequent week is troublesome within the present excessive value local weather, he provides, not to mention the following 5 years.

Katie Hilton of Cheffins reviews that almost all of farms in Mid Tier schemes are opting to proceed with them as they arrive to an finish – however larger readability and extra element on the brand new schemes can be useful, particularly with market situations altering.

“Anyone who’s new to stewardship isn’t being given a lot confidence to go in now – there appear to be new causes to not do it,” she says.

“Taking land out of production for 5 years is a daring transfer and there might be restrictions on having the ability to domesticate it once more as soon as the settlement is completed.

“Make certain you have got taken good recommendation and consulted extensively.”

Cereals 2022

A quantity of consultants will likely be available to supply recommendation on stewardship schemes on the Cereals occasion.

This is going down on Wednesday 8 and Thursday 9 June at Chrishall Grange, close to Duxford, Cambridgshire.

More data and to e book tickets 

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