The launch of the SFI: how can Agrii help? - Agrii - Connecting Agri-science with farming

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August 4, 2022

The launch of the SFI: how can Agrii help?

This June, we saw the launch of the Government’s new support scheme for farmers. The Soil standards for both Arable & Horticulture, as well as Grassland, are incentivising farmers to monitor soil health and base management decisions on results to improve soil resilience.

Soil assessments: Most people will now be familiar with the main requirements under the introductory and intermediate standards, but one of the largest demands is the requirement to undertake a soil assessment on each land parcel entered into the standard within the first 12 months. As part of these assessments, you must:

  • assess soil type, texture, structure and biology
  • assess risks to your soil (i.e. soil erosion and run off)
  • identify historic features

Soil management planning: From these assessments, a Soil Management Plan then needs to be developed and reviewed annually. This is the action which has the potential to really add value to the grower’s business, for example with targeting cultivations, nutrient management planning and increasing the workability of the soil.

Cover cropping: On top of this, if farmers are entering the intermediate standard, they are required to establish a cover crop on 20% of the land. This is an action which everybody will want to make worth its while for improving soil health, but also keep the costs low by implementing best practice. Our extensive research over the years has demonstrated the benefits of cover crops, including the best mixes for different soil types, along with methods of establishment and destruction for maximum benefit. Examples of key findings as a result of this research include:

  • The species in a cover crop mix will require different drilling dates and rates, so it’s important to choose species and mixes that are appropriate to your area and find an optimum establishment window.
  • Target your fields correctly – soil structure can have a huge impact on establishment, so setting the soil up correctly is just as important for cover crops as any cash crop.
  • Assessing and managing pest pressures is very important for the following crop.
  • Understand the effect of the cover crop C:N ratio can have on the nutrition strategy for the following crop.

Our agronomists can help answer these questions in relation to your farm, and base decisions on the Soil Management Plan developed.

So – how can Agrii help?

Earlier this year, we launched our Soil Resilience Strategy (SRS), a new service to help farmers understand their soils and provide an informed management approach. This ultimately fits with the goals of the Sustainable Farming Incentive to improve soil health. Using this service, we aim to help farmers be compliant with the new incentives, but also add value to the business from results obtained. By doing so, we intend to look beyond making this a tick box exercise, encouraging the use of data to make informed changes to cultivations, nutrition and even rotations to help tackle rising input costs.

Record keeping

We are currently in the process of finalising our own electronic record keeping system for the soil assessments, lab results and soil management plan. This will enable growers to access all their results in one place and make the data more interactive for maximum usability. We are already able to use our application to collect data out in the field to add to laboratory data reports, so growers can talk to their Agrii contact about collecting the data required to be SFI compliant.

Table 1: Options showing data that can be collected in SRS versus what is required for the SFI. There is the ability to go beyond the SFI requirements using the SRS, and you can target fields where this information might be useful.

In summary…

Ultimately, the sustainable farming incentive is providing a new income stream for farmers to access. To date, we have been viewing these schemes as a replacement for the loss of BPS, but in reality, one standard alone will never replace that payment. Instead, we should be looking at this as an incentive to assess and understand our soils, to better target our management in the short and long term.

If growers are interested in what SFI has to offer, we recommend they contact the team at Agrii – whether it is for help to be compliant, technical advice, or even to establish whether this is the best route for their farm. For more information, please speak to your usual Agrii contact, email us at info@agrii.co.uk or call us on 0845 6073322.