19 November 1999

Farm stewardship is key to buy British campaign

By Charles Abel

RESPONSIBLE farming is vital if growers want consumers to buy British.

Indeed, it is essential if a kite-mark promoting home-grown crops is to have any value.

"Consumers have got to believe British produce is better," says Paul Clarke owner of the host farm for Cereals 2000 at Nocton, near Lincoln. "That means it has got to be approved by an independent assessor, cost under 5% extra and it must be produced to an environmental level which satisfies consumers."

Environmental stewardship on the all-arable Nocton Farm is already well advanced, ahead of multiple retailer involvement on bulbs next year. This week fingers were crossed for Countryside Stewardship support for a major programme of environmental work on the 2830ha (6986 acre) farm. "With a full FWAG survey behind us we are confident," says Mr Clarke.

The bid includes proposals for creating wetland habitats, tree and hedge planting, pond digging, hedge laying, grass margins and a bird hide.

When consumers visit the countryside they must be pleased with what they see, Mr Clarke says. "Farms should be tidy and farming conducted with due reverence for nature."

Good stewardship need not cost a lot, he adds. It is more about having the right attitude. "It is not rocket science. It is about delaying hedge cutting until after Christmas when the birds have had the berries, and maybe only cutting every other year. It is about ploughing for spring crops post-winter and leaving set-aside unmown where possible. We have 10% of Lincss lapwings, for example, because we delay vining pea drilling until after birds have nested on over-wintered stubble."

Stewardship can cut costs too, says farm manager Martin Reams. "We expect to use less Avadex for sterile brome control now we have established grass strips under hedges."

But a single scheme with a single mark is needed to unify the plethora of assurance schemes which currently mean very little to consumers, Mr Clarke says. "I think the will is there among the multiple retailers, but it must be independently assessed, with co-ordination from MAFF, the NFU or the proposed Food Standards Agency."

Developing the LEAF approach would make sense, he says. "It is already there, rather than starting from scratch and Tesco, Sainsbury and Birds Eye, for example, all use it already." &#42

Beet progress

Sugar beet is one-third lifted and running towards a 15% C beet overshoot at Nocton. "We are averaging almost 51t/ha compared with 58t/ha at this time last year, when we overshot by 50%. But the ground is much worse this year," says Mr Reams. Madisons low crown is proving tricky to top but high yielding, while Roberta is turning in good sugars. Top tare is averaging 7%, mainly due to Madison, but dirt tare is down from 7% to 5-6% with some loads at 1% thanks to a CTM cleaner. "It does a great job." Target dirt tare is 4%. The overshoot means 16ha (40 acres) of land destined for beet has already been diverted into wheat.