FIELD MARGINS could be worth up to 500/ha (200/acre) under new support, so take a fresh look at them now, advises Marek Nowakowski of the Farmed Environment Company.

Under the new system some growers are certain to profit more by supporting bumblebees than producing winter wheat, says Mr Nowakowski.

“All farmers are going to have to learn new skills and be prepared to enter the green game to receive their money.

Margins must be seen as an income opportunity.” Understanding the demands of cross-compliance will be important.

“It will be good for farming and good for the environment. But you will have to abide by rules – those who break them will find the fines pretty severe.”

The two main routes to future aid are the Entry Level Scheme and the Higher Level Scheme, he says. “You must come to terms with these. Remember that you can”t go into the HLS, where the better money is, until you have been accepted into Entry Level.”

Growers deciding cropping and rotations should get a copy of the ELS pilots” point scoring system, he advises. “You can get it from the DEFRA website. Then go round the farm and score the points you already have. Subtract these from the total you need to receive your 30/ha.”

This will show how many points need to be generated next year. That, in turn, may require land previously intended for cropping to be used for ELS purposes. “That”s why it is so important to do this process now, not when you”ve already made decisions.”

Mr Nowakowski accepts taking land out of production for the ELS will be hard for many growers. “It requires a new attitude. But if you have done the scoring, you know what to do next and how to secure the payment.” Water protection is a key ELS theme.

“LERAPs can be difficult and demanding. So start looking at the appropriate margin width for getting rid of them.”

He urges growers to consider alternatives to cocksfoot in field margins. “So much cocksfoot has been sown across England, but it”s not the best species for biodiversity.

“Take a look at the pollen and nectar mixes instead – there”s a shortage of these.” Margins can score up to 500 points in the ELS.

“And it works out that you get around 1 for every point. So some margins will earn [the equivalent of] 500/ha.” If the gross margin from a planned crop will be less then don”t sow it, he suggests.

“There are situations where you will earn more money from a margin than from a crop.” As a result, field edges, difficult corners, areas with restricted access or next to watercourses should be seen in a different light.

“Every farm has lower yielding fields or corners. These are the places to start.”