Letters to the Editor

19 February 2000

Letters to the Editor

Measuring up to the margins…

I WAS interested to read your article on measurement of field margins (Crops, 11 December 1999). You may wish to draw the attention of readers to the situation where if they plant 2m or 6m grass margins under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the overall distance to the centre of the field boundary has to be deducted from an IACS claim and not just the width of the grass margin.

MAFF told me that it was "looking at the situation" when it was pointed out that part of the stewardship grant was then clawed back because the 2m allowance for field boundaries was then disallowed. Possible your intervention may result in MAFF addressing this ridiculous situation.

A J Coleman,

Lower Norton Farms, Norton, Sutton Scotney, Winchester, Hants

…and a better solution on boundariesAS an environmental consultancy, offering advice on a wide range of environmental and conservation aspects on farms, we regard the new IACS rule on field boundaries as a total ecological and environmental disaster.

The relevant section is that which stipulates that the area of any field boundary, which is found at inspection to be in excess of 2m wide, will be deducted from the eligible area, and the grower penalised accordingly.

Encouraging farmers to adopt new methods which lead to environmental improvement is not easy – particularly if they fear compromising their bottom line. This ruling will only serve to build on these suspicions. And on many farms, the only ground that exists for developing wildlife habitats is by the hedgerows and at field margins.

There are three key points that MAFF must appreciate:

&#8226 The UK has a unique pattern of hedges within Europe

&#8226 This rule will lead to more hedgerows being grubbed up, and more frequent hedgerow trimming, with adverse effects on birds and mammals

&#8226 The A-shaped hedge, with a wide base and grass strip on either side, is the most useful habitat for the maximum number of species to thrive. The new width restriction would eliminate this.

A better solution would be to introduce an environmental grant payable as of right for the total area occupied by hedges, shelterbelts, etc that are growing on land that is eligible for area aid. Wider hedgerows could receive a habitat payment on par with arable area aid.

We appeal to the ministry to avoid the potential for an environmental catastrophe across the entire arable area, by taking urgent action to amend this ruling.

T F Robinson and M R Hood-Cree,

Countryside Conservation Services,

Bythorn, Cambs

Making strides with lupins

I READ with interest your coverage of the AAB Conference in Crops, w/e 22 January. However, I was concerned by the comments on soil pH and fungal diseases on lupins.

The absolute upper soil pH limit for the autumn sown white lupin has been shown to be 7.2 on the silty clay loam with flints at Rothamsted. In practice we recommend to farmers that they only use fields with a soil pH <7.0 to be sure of avoiding crop losses. In the last seven years we have grown a vast number of small plot trials and covered all of the arable areas of the UK. We have not experienced any problems on soils with a pH value of <7.0. In fact we have grown the majority of those trials on soils within the pH range 6.5-7.0. There is no evidence for an upper soil pH limit of 6.5.

The occurrence of two new diseases is not a cause for concern. Black root rot is common on grain legumes but does not cause serious concern for farmers. A wide range of phoma isolates were tested for pathogenicity on white lupin at Rothamsted. All were found to be non-pathogenic. The identification of a new isolate on a white lupin crop is a point of scientific interest. It must be remembered that the two crops that were infected with these diseases were under stress from high soil pH (7.2+) and were therefore more susceptible to fungal pathogens.

There are fungal pathogens that are of great concern to lupin growers the world over. Potentially the most serious is anthracnose, and it must be stressed to UK farmers at every opportunity that they must be absolutely sure of the health status of their seed in order to prevent a serious outbreak. Compared to anthracnose, the threat from black root rot and phoma is very small.

We have made tremendous progress with the lupin crop in the UK. For those of us who have experience of growing the crop the risks are now quite low and a profit can be made each year. We are now at the critical stage of transferring that experience and knowledge to a wider audience of farmers and their agronomists/advisers.

Ian Shield,

IACR Rothamsted, Harpenden, Herts



I WOULD like to make a few comments on the AAB report in Crops, 22 January.

&#8226 Lupins

These are pH sensitive but will happily tolerate a pH up to 7.

No incidence of either black root rot or the new isolate of phoma have been found on any crop in the UK.

We have been involved with winter lupins for the past eight years and now have two spring lupin varieties which overcome the problems associated with over-wintering lupins.

&#8226 Winter linseed

Although the area of linseed grown in the UK in 2999 was in excess of 200,000ha, winter linseed accounted for only about 10% of this. For 2000 harvest the area of winter linseed has fallen by around 90%. This is due in the main to the combination of high yields for spring varieties and the ease of spring crop management. Spring varieties such as Oscar, which is the highest yielding variety ever, and Agristar, which was the highest selling variety in 1999, will both easily outyield the winter varieties.

&#8226 Evening primrose

There is now very little, if any, evening primrose grown in the UK. This is due to the Chinese growing and selling the crop and the oil far cheaper than could ever be done in the UK and therefore as an opportunity it has little potential.

Andrew Flux,

Commercial Manager, Gorham & Bateson, Caroline House, Ryston End, Downham Market, Norfolk

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