Getting to grips with ELS

GREEN FARMING is nothing new to James Crosbie Dawson, who has been farming under Countryside Stewardship Scheme guidelines for8-9 years. About three-quarters of the farm is under the scheme.

Now, further environmental improvements on the remaining area are planned to secure the 30/ha (12/acre) offered by the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme.

Mr Crosbie Dawson has registered some woodland and hedgerows in readiness for the scheme. He has not yet drawn up a detailed ELS plan, but a flick through the scheme notes suggest the farm should qualify without much trouble.

“We already qualify for nine of the 30 points/ha needed because we have soil, nutrient, manure and crop protection management plans in place, he says. “And, with plenty of hedges and woodlands, getting the rest of the points should not be too onerous.”

 Hedgerows are the most obvious target, especially as ELS options can be introduced on boundaries funded by the CSS, says Mr Crosbie Dawson.

 “The rules for enhanced hedgerow management, such as the 2m minimum height and cutting no more than a third of hedges every year and only during the winter months, is no different from what we do now. With 42 points per 100m, that should accumulate quite a total.”

accruing points

Adding a further 2m strip around some fields (in addition to the 2m cross compliance strip) is worth a further 300-400 points/ha. “We should mostly end up with a 3m strip as the cross-compliance strip is measured from the centre of the hedge,” says Mr Crosbie Dawson.

“This might encourage more people to roam around the farm. However, where this has happened on CSS strips, I find explaining that the strips exist for conservation rather than access cures the problem.”

Other good points-earning choices could include field corner management and wild bird seed mixtures, each worth 400 points/ha. Overwintered stubbles will also be claimed as spring barley features strongly in the rotation and these areas will accrue 120 points/ha. Management of woodland edges (380 points/ha) and in-field trees (12 points on arable, eight on grassland) will also be considered.

“All in all, the ELS is a worthwhile scheme,” says Mr Crosbie Dawson. “It will help show the public how farming is helping the countryside. I can see we are going to have take a bit of land out of production, but that will largely be less productive headlands and corners on this farm.”

sfp forms

 Other paperwork will have to be tackled in the coming weeks. Mr Crosbie Dawson is keeping a keen eye on the post for his SP5 form, which will enable him to establish and activate the farm”s single farm payment entitlements.

“I have seen a sample form, and it looks pretty horrendous. The Rural Payments Agency wants a lot of information – much of which must be on their files already. It”s not the sort of thing you can fill in over a cup of coffee, and time is getting short.”

Despite the looming tangle of red tape, the real business of farming continues. All but 6ha (15 acres) of Prestige spring barley, sold for 15/t over feed for maximum N content of 1.75%, has been drilled.

The campaign started in mid-February, but low temperatures delayed emergence so all the crop is coming through at once. “It looks fine, but we need moisture badly. Like most of southern England, we are dry – we have had 17mm of rain in March to date.”

Mr Crosbie Dawson sold 500t of wheat last week. “I was offered 70/t plus premiums for January/February 2006 and took it.”

Some crops will not cost so much to grow this year. Recent soil tests show P and K values increasing, averaging high two to three index readings. “This is despite using TSP sparingly. Both nutrients will be reduced in the next cropping year.”

 Deep soil tests on one of the grazing fields produced a reading of six. “This means we shall cut nitrogen by half on our paddocks.”

The same applies for spring barley after turnips. “Tests showed a soil index reading of three, which surprised everybody and could explain why we have been getting some high nitrogen readings in the spring barleys. 50kg/ha will be sufficient.”

There has, however, been some bad news on the dairy front. Fourteen of his sixth-lactation cows, giving about 40 litres a day and mostly back in calf, are BSE cohorts and have to be culled by the end of March.

At the time of writing, Mr Crosbie Dawson was awaiting the valuer, and hopes he will get decent compensation so he can buy replacements as soon as possible.

“Not only am I losing some very good cows, but I shall also lose 500-600 litres of milk a day for the next four months.”

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