Harvesting beans© Tim Scrivener

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Here, David Green offers advice about alternatives to pulses for meeting EFA requirements.

Q For the past two years I have grown beans to meet my ecological focus area (EFA) requirements. However, with potential restrictions being placed on the use of pesticides on nitrogen-fixing crops, will it be worthwhile growing beans? If not, what other options do I have?

A Since the CAP reform in 2015, farmers who receive payment through the Basic Payment Scheme have had to dedicate 5% of their productive arable land as an EFA in order to meet the greening rules.

David-GreenDavid Green
Food and farming consultant, Savills

Like you, the majority of farmers are using either nitrogen-fixing crops or cover crops to satisfy their EFA requirement.

With the ban likely to come into force in 2018, farmers need to be aware of the increased risk associated with the lack of crop protection.

Nitrogen-fixing crops

Beans and peas have been attractive options for fulfilling the EFA requirement, allowing additional income to be generated from land that would otherwise be left fallow.

See also: Business Clinic – should I move to liquid fertiliser

Depending on weed and disease levels within the crops, the ban on pesticides would lead to reduced yields and so a drop in crop output. Effectively the crops would be grown under “organic” conditions without the additional premium attached to organic crops being received.

Nitrogen-fixing crops are not the only method through which the EFA requirements can be satisfied and it is worth considering hedgerows, fallow land, buffer strips and catch and cover crops.

Hedgerows

Hedgerows are an excellent asset to take advantage of and can either be used wholly or in part to make up the EFA. Every 1,000m of hedgerow equates to 0.5ha of EFA, so in simple terms, a farm with 100ha of arable land would require at least 10,000m of recorded hedgerows to fully satisfy the EFA requirement.

By using hedgerows rather than fallow land or nitrogen-fixing crops, more land can be kept in production and the risk of the potential crop protection ban can be mitigated.

There are, however, restrictions on the physical size and positioning of hedgerows that must not be overlooked.   

Fallow land and buffer strips

Fallow is another option to consider. Field margins left in arable fields can qualify as fallow land and can be counted towards the EFA.

By using existing field margins, more land can be kept in production while still meeting EFA requirements. 

You should, however, be aware that if margins currently in a stewardship scheme are used to meet EFA requirements, a reduced stewardship payment will be received. 

Buffer strips alongside water courses are also a good way of complying with cross-compliance legislation and satisfying EFA requirements in the same area.

Catch and cover crops

Catch and cover crops are often overlooked as a potential EFA option as they reduce flexibility in the operational timings around harvest and autumn drilling.

In order to comply with EFA requirements, catch crops must be retained between 31 August and 1 October and cover crops must be retained between 1 October and 15 January.  Both would be subject to the proposed pesticide ban. However, as these crop types require few crop protection products, the ban should have little effect.  

Although catch and cover crops are not suitable for every farming system, they do have their merits and can enable the full arable area to be cropped each season while still complying with EFA regulations.

There are also all the other benefits to soil health and potential improvements in soil structure.

Therefore, with a little bit of planning and consideration of other options, it’s possible to remove potentially non-viable beans from the rotation and still meet EFA requirements.


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