CAP unravelled: Arable growers plan for greening

New greening rules mean arable growers need to make plans. Most will have to grow at least three crops and put a minimum of 5% of their land into an ecological focus area. Luke Casswell talks to farmers from across the country to look at how they are keeping their business thriving and meeting the requirements.

Nottinghamshire – Graham McIntyre

Short-term catch crops will help Graham McIntyre meet greening rules on his sandy land and minimise the impact on his business.

He plans to grow a cereals/mustard mix on his lightest land during September which allows him enough time to drill a winter wheat crop or leave for sugar beet in the spring.

Farm facts

  • Name: Broomhill Grange, Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire
  • Area: 800ha
  • Cropping: winter wheat, spring wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape, sugar beet, leeks, carrots, forage maize
  • Solution: catch crops

“Catch crops offer a good opportunity to keep your rotation the same although it will create a bit more work,” he says.

To comply with new greening rules, catch crops must be established by 31 August and retained until at least 1 October.

He points out that the following crop will determine the type of catch crop mix.

“If we were going to go for a second wheat we would probably go for a cheap option but if it was sugar beet it would be worth putting in a crop that might fix a bit of nitrogen and you can plough it back in,” he says.

Catch crops fit in well with his farming system on Broomhill Grange, as Mr McIntyre has used a similar establishment technique with a Simba Express to grow stubble turnips, while the farm does not have a problem with blackgrass.

Mr McIntyre highlights he could meet the Ecological Focus Area (EFA) greening requirements with hedgerows, buffer zones and bird covers.

However, as complying with these greening rules is linked to the new Basic Payment Scheme the possibility of a delayed payment has prompted him to opt for the catch crops.

Durham – Edwin Taylor

Edwin-Taylor-3Spring crops are on the rise for Durham grower Edwin Taylor and sowing cover crops followed by spring pulses will help him meet the new greening rules.

Getting on top of problem weeds like sterile brome and improving his soils has already prompted the growing or more spring crops.

“It has worked in our favour because we have been doing some of it anyway,” he says.

Spring pulses will meet the greening requirements this year, with about 10% of his 1,050ha set for spring beans and a further 5% for combine peas.

Farm facts

  • Name: Durham Field Farm, Consett, Durham
  • Area: 1,050ha
  • Cropping: wheat, oilseed rape, barley, beans, peas, spring oats
  • Solution: pulses & cover crops

He will then look to cut this area in the future and use his cover crops, which need to be grown for longer than catch crops as they need to established by 1 October and retained until at least 15 January.

“We have put a cover crop in already prior to planting our pulses then come next spring we will sow our spring crop using a direct drill and this should meet our EFA requirements,” he says.

Mr Taylor adds he tries to avoid leaving land fallow to keep good soil structure and maintain the organic matter on his sandy silty loam land.

“One problem we do have in our high stock area is that straw is worth a lot of money so there is a temptation to take it off, but cover crops help restore any organic matter that is lost so they will be a good option in the future,” he adds.

The three-crop rule will be the biggest hurdle for Mr Taylor, due to his small contract farms, which have typically been block cropped.

“It is not going to be impossible to overcome but it does mean we will have to change things around and it will take more time to farm and will come at a cost,” he says.

Staffordshire – Peter Sands

peter-sandsThe three-crop rule has thrown up the biggest headache for Peter Sands, who manages over 1,700ha in Staffordshire, just north of Wolverhampton.

A rotation including wheat, barley, oilseed rape and oats satisfies the three-crop rule on the majority of his land, but his small rented farms are block cropped.

Farm facts

  • Name: Ivy Dene, Brewood, Staffordshire
  • Area: 1,700ha
  • Cropping: winter wheat, winter barley, spring oat, spring beans, winter beans
  • Solution: pulses and fallow

So he has expanded the rotation using cereal and pulse crops, with the winter and spring beans crops helping to satisfy the EFA greening rules.

“They are late harvesting and a bit of a pain to dry. You can still get a good profit out of them but they are not as good as oilseed rape so it is really making the most of a bad situation,” he says.

Mr Sands has already pinpointed the less productive areas on his farm, which he will leave fallow to meet some of the EFA area requirements.

“This will provide the lion’s share of our ecological focus area, and because we have got land that is fallow already, it is easier to implement,” he explains.

Cover crops are also proving an appealing option for the future, says Mr Sands. However, he is waiting more details on this option.

“We have land rented off us for potatoes, which would be prefect for putting a cover crop in before, but we may wait before we implement that to clarify what mixes we can use,” he adds.

Lincolnshire – Mike Copley

Mike-CopleyThe new greening rules were well timed for Lincolnshire grower Mike Copley, who is turning to winter beans to comply.

He is looking to get good control of common brome by growing 28ha in winter beans by planting at the end of October and then having number of herbicide options availiable.

Farm facts

  • Name: Heath Farm, Croxton Kerrial, near Grantham, Lincs
  • Area: 240ha
  • Cropping: winter barley, winter wheat, spring oats, fodder beet, grass
  • Solution: pulses

“The brome problem has gradually got worse on some areas of our farm, and we’ve struggled to get on top of it so this year we are going to kill two birds with one stone,” he says.

This tempted him back into winter beans, which have not been grown on his farm for over 20 years.

“It also gives us the chance to go in with a first wheat following the pulse crop and it will help with the workload and storage over harvest, due to its later harvesting,” he adds.

Mr Copley says the prospect of making the most of some of his heavier land with a low-input crop with a return made it an easy choice for him.

Based on light limestone brash, the land is not typically high yielding for pulse crops but he says he can still reach 5t/ha in a good year.

Despite the expected influx of pulse growers possibly driving the price down, he points out that most crops are already facing similar problems, so it still offers one of the best options on his farm.

“There isn’t really a market for anything at the minute, the prices are so low, but it is better than not growing nothing at all,” he adds.

Key greening rules

Under the new Basic Payment Scheme to start on 1 January 2015, a third of each farm’s payment will depend on complying with new “greening” rules such as:

The three-crop rule – Farmers with more than 30ha of land will need to grow at least three different crops.

Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) – Farmers with more than 15ha of arable land need to create a EFA equating to 5% of their eligible land. Depending on weightings this can be achieved by putting 5% of land to fallow, 7.1% down to nitrogen-fixing crops like pulses, or 16.7% of catch or cover crops. There are also options for using eligible hedges and buffer strips by a watercourse. Farmers can use a combination of these options to meet their EFA target.