Battling beetle, following ELMS and farewell Florrie and Rocky


Farmer George Hosford discusses the latest news on ELMS, crosses his fingers on the new oilseed rape, and says goodbye to two old friends

Flowery strip in a field of spring barley, hopefully it will be a source of beetle and aphid munchers.

Autumn sowing has proceeded at pace over the last three weeks; all is sown apart from two small fields of wheat, though the rain has made the last 10 days a bit of an on/off affair. I am hesitant to mention the new season oilseed rape crop – it needs a little longer to determine whether all of it will see the season out, though it may have turned the corner in the last 10 days, in spite of a slug and flea beetle onslaught. Delayed sowing thanks to the august drought meant that emergence coincided with the main beetle hatch, and although we have been trying to encourage predator insects with a more flowery habitat, the crop has still suffered. Perhaps though, had we not established the extra habitat, the crop would have failed completely.

Harvesting wild seed
We are in the first year of a new Countryside Stewardship agreement, and as well as the infield flowery strips, a significant part of it involves establishing six metre flower margins around the arable fields that don’t already have them. Many of our fields have had them in place since we first entered HLS (Higher Level Stewardship scheme) in 2010, when we used purchased seed to establish them.
This time we have used our own seed, harvested this summer from a field of downland reversion created in 2010 as part of that original HLS – which itself had been sown with seed harvested from much older existing downland. It was, on that occasion, harvested by a seed specialist with a brush harvester and a tractor with very wide set wheels on very steep banks. We cut this year’s seed with our own combine. It has now been analysed and 14 flower species have been identified, as well as a number of grasses. Fingers crossed for a good germination.

The latest on ELMS
The SFI, (Sustainable Farming Incentive) is the wide-ranging basic level of ELMS (DEFRA’s environmental land management scheme) designed to attract many farmers into environmentally-beneficial activity. The NFU is calling for it to be pushed ahead with vigour and to deliver 70 per cent of farmers, with 65 per cent of the ELMS budget. But DEFRA have yet to acknowledge that this is what will be needed to achieve their aims. ELMS is intended to be a partial successor to the BPS (Basic Payment Scheme), a relic of the EU days, which is being reduced to zero in annual stages over seven years. It is not pretended that ELMS will replace the BPS, but ELMS will offer farmers public money for providing public goods, in the shape of environmental enhancement. Supporting food production has been deemed to be less deserving of support with public money …
There are two other strands to ELMS, in addition to SFI.
Local Nature Recovery is touted as the replacement for Countryside Stewardship (CS), and could perhaps be wound in and simply emerge as an evolved version of CS, without the upheaval of a whole new scheme.
Secondly there is Landscape Recovery, which needs to be handled with great care. It is likely to operate across a limited number of large areas where groups of landowners get together with a particular outcome in mind.
Each of the 24 pilot projects recently announced will receive £500,000 to develop their projects. If this is likely to result in large areas taken out of food production then the potential environmental gain will need to make a very strong case.
The NFU is asking for a pause in broader ELMS development, in order to take full account of the changed situation across the world, the Ukraine war, the energy crisis, climate change and the ongoing aftermath of the COVID pandemic, not to mention the consequences of Brexit – all have affected food supply and flow around the world. If there is to be a pause in ELMS roll out in order to ensure that all these things reach fruition, then a delay in the reduction of BPS must also remain on the table.

Insufficient hedgerows
We now know what SFI can look like in reality for the two standards which are so far available (arable and grassland soils). The interface is straightforward and the application is easy to complete online, though the level of funding may not be high enough. Let us hope that more standards will appear very soon, but they must be fit for purpose before release. Draft versions of a Hedgerow Standard, for example, still need further work; a way needs to be found whereby SFI would fund farmers to plant new hedges in the advanced level.
This could achieve much take-up and make a real difference. Hedges have the potential to provide huge environmental gain, but the key will be the funding. The ‘income foregone plus costs’ model that DEFRA is currently hooked on will not cover all the work needed to be done to many existing hedges, and if trying to get new ones planted, will be utterly insufficient.

School visit champions
Lastly, we bade goodbye to two old and faithful animal friends this year, both of whom were stars every time we a school trip visits the farm. At the end of a visit, after looking at growing crops, cows with calves, doing a woodland trail and checking out shiny giant machinery, we usually finish with a visit to the paddock where the old pony and the tame sheep live.
We always go armed with a bag of toast, which is handed out to the children and immediately snatched from them by the greedy, though surprisingly gentle, sheep (and the pony if she is quick enough).
Florrie the pony was allegedly 38 this year. Sadly 2022 was as far as she could manage, and so too it was for Rocky, a wether lamb from 2012.
Junior family members had lambed his mother – he was a big fellow, and the birth proved too much for his mother, who did not survive. Once my 12 year-old recovered from the shock of witnessing the ewe’s demise, she gleefully brought him home to join that year’s band of orphan lambs. From that moment, a life of luxury and uselessness was assured, though poor Rocky had his share of troubles.
First there was the time he got himself breached in the bushes, and had it not been for the eagle eye of Jayne he would have expired there.
Then there were the many episodes of the hole in his back. What started with a small injury at shearing turned into a massive issue once the magpies spotted it and got dug in. First we tried disinfectant spray and Stockholm tar, but that just trickled away in the sunshine.
Then we tried a lady sheep’s prolapse harness (the indignity of it), but he would shrug it off and the magpie was back in a trice. The stupid animal would just let it peck away. Ugh.
After that we tried stitching a patch to his wool; knitting it might have been better, but the wool was too short, and the patch didn’t survive trips into the bushes. Finally Nicki hit on the genius idea of the glue gun (a wonderful tool for a multitude of situations). The glued-on patch lasted weeks, enabling the wound to make a full recovery!
Last Sunday afternoon a walker informed us that there was a suspiciously dead-looking animal lying on its side in the paddock.
We had only moved them that morning, and Rocky had trotted along happily, so the end had been thankfully swift, lying peacefully in the autumn sunshine. Between them Florrie and Rocky must have met over 3,000 children. That’s a lot of toast.

(see George’s full monthly blog and images on View from the Hill here)

Sponsored by Trethowans – Law as it should be


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