Our Sustainable Farming Approach
We must realign our farm’s objectives with the governments which currently encourages farmers to take more of an integrated farm management approach with regards to sustainable farming practices.
What is Integrated Farm Management?
Integrated Farm Management (IFM) is a whole farm business approach that with best farming practices aims to deliver more sustainable farming.
How to carry out Integrated Farm Management
We plan to combine traditional farming methods with the best new technologies so that we can tailor appropriate and effective use of inputs to help minimise our use of nitrogen fertiliser, sprays and herbicides. This method also complements our continued aim to improve the health of our soil and to enhance existing wildlife habitats by creating new areas where needed.
Countryside Stewardship Scheme Member
Over the last 20 years we have been improving our local ecosystem through the plantation of 75,000 trees and many acres of hedgerows forming wildlife corridors as they connect woods and parcels of land. In 2021 we were also accepted into a new “ ramped up” Countryside stewardship scheme on the back of previous schemes the farm has been in over the last 10 years or so.
Today, 28% of the total farm area is under environmental options, this consists of the following:
Nectar flower mixtures & flower rich margins or plots that provide vital nectar & pollen sources for insect pollinators & insect rich foraging for birds.
Winter bird food plots which enable winter bird food to be available all year round for birds such as as yellow hammers, corn buntings & other ground based mammals.
Grass margins & buffer strips are in situ around certain water courses that are at high risk of pollution from farm inputs such as sprays & fertiliser as well as erosion from the surrounding fields. These areas of grass also provide excellent cover & habitats for harvest mice & brown hares who have become endangered, as well as being good hunting grounds for Barn Owls which are a species particularly close to my heart!
Two year legume fallow is now included in the rotation which will help to improve the soil health. This is sown in August & left for two years giving the land a rest with no inputs of nitrogen or sprays applied. The grass mix contains ryegrass, clover, trefoil lucerne & vetch which helps to fix nitrogen naturally into the soil, improving the condition & of course will provide vital food for insects & foraging for birds & small mammals (head over to our YouTube Channel to see Dawn Wilson, Director speaking about this in further detail & showing it in situ).
Hedge row management is a must in enhancing habitats and is carried out by cutting the hedges every two years on a rotational basis. This allows ground nesting birds such as section 41 priority species like grey partridge & hedgehogs to have more cover & food sources in the winter, whilst also benefitting Bull finches who love foraging in hedges.
Reduce Soil Movement
Over the recent years our cultivation methods have changed as we aim to reduce soil movement through the managment and incorporation of organic matter levels to maintain optimum soil health.
What is organic matter level?
It is the part of the soil that consists of plant or animal tissue in various stages of breakdown (decomposition).
Our current organic matter level across the farm ranges from 5.5 – 6% which is above the UK’s average. The next step for us is to both maintain & build these levels through the reduction in our cultivations via cropping changes & crop residue, but only when the conditions allow.
Direct drilling has occurred on the farm for many years. The establishment of Oilseed Rape has been planted via direct planting techniques to minimise soil moisture loss & reduce open areas of bare soil for the flea beetle to attack. We hope to carry out more direct planting/tillage principles in other crops without reducing the crops potential in the near future. We have purchased a new hoe for use starting this spring on the back of successful trials using an interrow hoe in cereals, Rape & pulse crops which did a good job taking out the weeds as opposed to spraying them off.
Our Sustainable Farming Aim for 2022 and beyond
Our aim for sustainable farming this year is to reduce our fertiliser usage further, with the starting point being to understand what is in our soil. Soil nitrogen samples have been taken before any fertiliser applications have been carried out, giving us a guide on what the soil currently contains & how much we need to apply. If the soil contains good levels of nitrogen, for example after beans or two year legume fallow, this will allow us to reduce our nitrogen rates, which is good news all round for our soil health & our growing costs.
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