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Kings Cover Crops

Kings are the official Cover Crop Partner for Groundswell 2018. Sales manager Richard Barnes shares his view of the ongoing changes in UK agriculture in relation to soil management and soil health.

What changes have you seen within UK farming since GW17?

I think changes have taken place in three key areas: policy, growers’ attitudes and communication.

Firstly, the recent policy changes are undoubtedly the biggest drivers of change and determining what UK farmers do with their land. Up until 2017, Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) requirements were easily met by planting peas and beans under the Nitrogen Fixing Crop option.

However, the subsequent withdrawal of the use of Plant Protection Products (PPPs) has meant growing such crops within the constraints of EFA rules is not practical or sustainable. As such, many growers have been looking at alternatives – Catch and Cover Crop options are a simple way of doing this. When carefully selected and implemented effectively, they are good for soils, water, crops and the wider environment. To date, we have seen a significant increase in interest and commitment to a greater area of green cover crops being planted post-harvest this year.

Secondly, we have seen a huge interest in soils, soil health and direct drilling. Only four years ago, seeing an article in the media about soils or cover crops was rare and often quickly overlooked. Now, we see soils way up the agenda – both in press and on farm. Soil health is a key pillar within progressive crop production on many units, with great focus being applied to rotation, crop type, introduction of livestock, manures and composts etc. to ensure it’s well maintained and improved.

Thirdly, we’ve seen far more collaboration between growers and industry. Through our network of 3D trial sites (Discovery, Development and Demonstration) we see just how much value there is in communicating and learning from one another. The importance of expertise is recognised by growers keen to develop a network of ‘trusted advisors’ to help support the various aspects of an efficient and productive farming business.

You mention crop production – what does that mean in your eyes?

Crop production is about bringing all facets of the farm business together to form a cohesive approach to growing crops or producing livestock. No one element should be in isolation! Opening up rotations brings opportunities for spring crops, grass leys, cover crops and even livestock (either growers’ own or third party graziers). There’s then a need to consider machinery requirements, progressive agronomy, targeted crop nutrition, precision farming, crop marketing and agri-environment opportunities – all under the same umbrella.

We have seen massive changes in farm production over the years. There is no doubt that many of the techniques and approaches adopted two generations ago are now being blended with modern technology and the latest learnings to improve farm profitability.

How do you support those who are keen to introduce or develop a soil health strategy on farm?

Based on the crop production approach, we work alongside our colleagues from Frontier Agriculture and SOYL to support growers at all stages within their soil health ‘journey’.
Rather than take an isolated view on what green cover mix to plant, we start from the beginning to understand the farm rotation, soil type, machinery, weed and pest pressure etc. With many growers overseeing multiple holdings with far-ranging geographical and soil type variations, it is very rare that one size fits all!

Key requirements from the cover crop or cultivation strategy, agri-environment or EFA requirement, grazing needs and soil borne pest challenges are all considered when assessing growers’ needs. We can bring basic, intermediate and advanced soil analysis together through our Soil-Life service and integrate this within the agronomy and precision farming requirements. We bring a targeted approach to cover crop selection that works alongside the current rotations, cultivation and crop establishment strategy to ensure the grower has a strategic yet achievable long term approach to soil health.

As well as our own research and development, we work closely with a wide range of industry stakeholders to ensure our advice and support takes on a progressive but integrated approach.

Given the changes and increased interest, what will you have on display and what topics do you expect to be popular discussion points at GW18?

Located alongside our colleagues from SOYL, our Kings advisory team will be guiding visitors through a diverse range of cover crops within our demonstration plot area. The tour will bring together the requirements on farm for the following areas:

  • EFA catch and cover crop options

  • Integrated soil borne pest management

  • Opportunities to integrate grazing within green cover crops

  • Straight crops through to multi-species options

  • Options to support soil health through stewardship schemes

  • Comparative plots with and without the addition of mycorrhiza fungi

If last year was anything to go by, everything and anything will be up for discussion! Key areas will undoubtedly include how cover crops can be integrated into EFA requirements, along with the ongoing move to a no-till system.

We’re also looking forward to challenging the machinery manufacturers as they work their way through our field-scale green cover crops. These have established really well having been direct drilled themselves. It’s a great way to bring the discussions full circle and encompass the practical implementation of the Groundswell approach to profitable and sustainable farming.

It will be a great event and we look forward to welcoming visitors to our displays on the Roadshott Field.

 

For more information about Kings, visit their website.

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