Matching CFE points with farm and soil type

Farmers have a huge list of Entry Level Scheme (ELS) options to choose from to earn the points required under the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.


But the challenge is in deciding which options will work best for their farm and soil type.

Cereals 2010 host farmer Robert Law faced this task when implementing agri-environment measures under ELS on his two contrasting farms in Nottinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

He believes that every farm has at least 5% of farmland that is either low-yielding, awkwardly shaped, steep or not best suited for arable cropping and would be better off being managed for the environment.

On his 500ha (1200 acres) of Nottinghamshire sandland near Mansfield, he has concentrated mainly on two options under ELS.

“We have got roughly 60-70% of our points from hedge management and the remainder comes from overwintered stubble (OS2),” he explains. “Because we grow a lot of spring crops up there, it’s easy land and we don’t have to plough it early, which works well.”

The overwintered stubble follows winter barley, winter oilseed rape or oats. Spring crops include potatoes, sugar beat, carrots, peas and spring barley.

Mr Law says hedging is easier to establish on moisture-retentive clay soil, but can be difficult on dry land like that on his Mansfield unit.

“When establishing new hedges, aim for five plants/m,” he says. “Keep the weed competition down in the first two years and replace all your losses every winter.

“Make sure they are well guarded and keep the vermin away,” adds Mr Law.

He advises farmers, where possible, to trim their hedges in the latter part of winter.

“Hedges produce a lot of berries and birds will feed on them right through the winter. January and February is when their food is in short supply.”

This summer, Mr Law plans to introduce more diverse habitats on the farm to increase his ELS options. These include buffer strips (C1/EJ9) around water courses, wild bird seed cover (C9/EF2/EG2) and reverted arable areas (C3a).

In contrast, he has employed a greater range of options on his 1200ha (3000 acres) farm on the Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border. Here cropping included cereals, peas, forage rape for seed and sugar beet.

He has taken up hedge options (EB1, EB2, EB3) and ditch management (EB6-EB10) where there are a couple of water courses on the farm.

Because he also runs 2500 ewes, there is 300ha of grass, which lends itself to buffer strips on intensive grassland (EE4, EE5, EE6).

Mr Law also has buffer strips on cultivated land (EE1, EE2), but most of the fields already had 6m margins covered under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

“We just grass them down with a fairly low management grass mixture,” he says.

Mr Law has established and restored 35ha of woodland on his farm.

“We have had to fence our woodlands to keep the deer, rabbits and hares out to prevent overgrazing, barking of young trees and soil erosion,” he says.

Although he has a “deer problem”, Mr Law has used this to his benefit under ELS and has put some of the steeper areas of his farm into woodland.

He picks up points for maintenance of woodland fences (EC3/OC3) and management of woodland edges.

Arable land has been placed under woodland and trees have been planted under Forestry Commission schemes.

“We grassed the area down and then planted all the trees,” Mr Law explains.

“We planted our woodland next to established woods in areas where corners were awkward or the land was a bit shaded or steep.”

Mr Law has also dedicated 20ha to wild bird seed mixture. “I don’t rotate all my wild bird cover every year, but we do move a percentage around sometimes,” he says.

“Your choice of crops and what you are doing must fit ELS rules. You need three crop types – such as millet, linseed, buckwheat and a cereal – and they must be a non-harvestable mix.

However, he stressed that fat hen can be a major problem in wild bird cover areas.

“You also need something that retains seeds. This is critical for farmland birds, especially in January and February when they have nothing to feed on and can die.”

Kale is an excellent crop, Mr Law says, but he cannot grow it as he is a seed rape grower, so has to be careful about cross-pollination.

One of his favourite options, however, is the pollen and nectar mix (EF4). “They take quite a bit of management, but are very rewarding. They are pleasing to the eye and bring a lot of wildlife in.”

He prefers a range of legumes, red and white clover and sainfoin. No fertiliser or manure is added.

When establishing clover, Mr Law is mindful of the threat of clover beetles.

“Pollen and nectar strips only last about two or three years before they are eventually taken over by thistles and brome grass. Then you have got to be prepared to start again,” he says.

Farmers can quickly build points under ELS and comply with CFE if they choose more demanding options such as the wild bird cover and pollen and nectar crops, Mr Law advises.

He says stewardship schemes compensate him for the loss of arable cropping and they are a guaranteed source of income, which is worthwhile, considering the price of cereals at the moment.

Where the points come from

Under ELS, Mr Law has to secure 13,000 points at his Nottinghamshire unit and more than 30,000 points at his Hertfordshire unit.

Nottinghamshire

• Hedge management

• Overwintered stubbles

Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire

• Hedge options

• Ditch management

• Buffer strips

• Woodland

• Bird seed mix

• Pollen and nectar mix

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