Farmers, who have to rethink their rotations after the appalling winter should consider where permanent grass buffer strips should be sited to protect water, advises The Voluntary Initiative.
The past six months has seen autumn drilling abandoned and crop failures as wet, cold weather took its toll. More recently, there has been a massive increase in spring sown crops. On many farms, long established rotations will now need to be rethought for autumn 2013.
In the rush to rethink farm rotations, it is important to bear in mind the opportunities for reconsidering environmental features as well as which fields will grow each crop, says Jim Egan of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.
While many will focus on optimising returns after a tough harvest in 2012 and an appalling autumn and winter, the need to look for environmental benefits should not be overlooked. Bare areas of land that now exist as a reminder of localised flooding may be put to better use for cover crops or beetle banks.
However, the need to protect water from crop protection products needs to be considered as well.
The VI recommends farmers place grass buffer strips at least 6m wide beside water courses to minimise the risk of run-off, especially where autumn-applied herbicides are used on winter oilseed rape crops, wider strips will be needed for steeper slopes and certain products. Strips can be established across slopes to break up run off down larger fields.
Grass buffers have been proven to significantly reduce surface run-off and so protect watercourses, says VI Manager Patrick Goldsworthy. Establishing and maintaining these buffers are an easy way for farmers to play their part in mitigating losses by surface run-off. This will help ensure the on-going availability of important herbicides, such as carbetamide, propyzamide and metazachlor, for profitable oilseed rape production and effective black-grass control in many arable rotations.
Support for buffer strips and beetle bank is available from Environmental Stewardship. Advice on how to access funding and farming practices to protect water are available from Catchment Sensitive Farming www.naturalengland/csf
Full details of how to establish buffer zones and how field slopes affect recommended widths can be found on the VI website www.voluntaryinitiative.org.uk.