Author: Chris Tomson
Farm: Towthorpe Manor Farm
Towthorpe Manor Farm is a 242ha arable farm with chalk dales grazed with native breed cattle. There is a small shoot with cover crops of mustard and triticale privately funded.
Winter cropping includes oilseed rape, winter wheat, winter barley and oats for Jordans. Spring beans are also grown, and precision farming is undertaken on the farm.
This particular feature was chosen as part of a Conservation Grade agreenment which requires 10% of arable land to be in wildlife friendly options. The option is sited alongside an east-facing 6m grass strip which is adjacent to a chalk dale and hedgerow.
The seed mix used comprised clovers, vetches, bird's-foot trefoil and sanfoin.
Late May 2013 - Sown into stubble using a Simba Express cultivator with tines set at 10 inches into the ground to take out compaction with integral rollers behind the tines. The seed is broadcast electrically onto the cultivated surface and Cambridge rolled. A heavy flat roller is recommended to give soil seed contact on this chalk brashy land.
Establishment was slow due to dry conditions in this low rainfall area. Re-drilling was considered, but sufficient rainfall brought about a rapid improvement with 95% establishment ground cover.
Frequent topping was required in the first year to aid establishment and deal with arable weeds such as poppies, shepherds purse, creeping thistle and fat hen.
When sited alongside a 6m grass margin, the option enhances opportunities for over-wintering insects and also buffers the floristically-rich chalk dale. An attractive option for visitors and very attractive to butterflies particularly, with small tortoiseshell, peacock and the odd painted lady seen on the farm along with numerous Silver Y moths, bumblebees and hoverflies.
The ELS/HLS payment doesn’t cover the cost of establishment particularly if there is an establishment failure and it needs to be re-drilled. However, taken as a component of a comprehensive HLS agreement which includes payments for managing the chalk dales the HLS agreement makes an important reliable and consistent payment to the farm business.
The main benefit is the buffering of the chalk dale from potential drift or run off from the neighbouring arable operations. It also enhances the other HLS options on the farm which include floristically enhanced buffer strips
Tips for other farmers
- Only sow when conditions are right regarding soil temperature and moisture levels. Broadcast rather than sow and roll tight to gain soil/seed contact.
- Frequent topping in the first year with a flail topper but be wary of smothering with crop residue.
- Don’t let creeping thistle seed.
- Be patient and wait until year two before deciding whether establishment has been successful or not as an earlier crop of nectar mix established on the farm looked very poor in year one but now looks amazing in year two.