Syngenta survey shows environmental area growth

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A new study of environmental area management on UK farms has revealed nearly 60% of farms are now positively sowing and managing conservation mixes on environmental areas.

Belinda Bailey, Syngenta’s sustainable farming manager, spoke at Cereals 2023 and highlighted the market research, commissioned by Syngenta, calculated over 40,000 hectares of UK cropped farmland was now sown with conservation environmental seed mixes. Furthermore, there were some 93,000 ha of cover crops and 33,000 ha of companion cropping, along with game cover that also accounted for nearly 12,000 hectares.

UK farmed area

In total, that equated to some 3.7% of cropped farm area in England and Wales, and over 6% of area in Scotland, where the survey showed cover crops are more widely grown. Farms that have positively engaged with utilising ecological habitats typically have more than five times the area within environmental management, compared to average.

The in-depth personal survey studied seed mixtures on environmental areas of more than 60 farms across England and Scotland.  Of the farms surveyed, over a quarter were growing more than 400 hectares of combinable crops, with over 60% growing at least 200 hectares.

“By far the greatest proportion of growers in England (84%) cited compliance with the existing Countryside Stewardship Scheme as the spontaneous motivation for growing conservation or environmental areas, along with 65% in Scotland for Ecological Focus Area for BPS farm payments in Scotland,” reported Ms Bailey.

Benefits of providing habitat to encourage bees, beneficial predators and birds was also seen as useful, but generally of secondary importance.

Soil structure

“The role of cover crops to maintain or improve soil structure (64%) and their nutritional contribution (13%) or organic matter contribution was seen as of the greatest value by growers, followed by an increase in beneficial insect populations and bird numbers, with bees and pollinators of less interest,” she added.

However, the survey also highlighted that, currently, most growers pay little attention to specific seed mixes or purpose of individual species, beyond compliance with stewardship scheme requirements.

“Independent Operation Pollinator research has provided a wealth of information to help growers make better informed decisions on seed-mix selection for agronomic, economic and ecological benefits in individual situations,” Ms Bailey advised.

Cover crop nutrient value

The economic nutrient value of the Operation Pollinator Green Headland Mix cover has been fully calculated, while detailed studies have shown the biodiversity boost from Operation Pollinator Annual Flower Mix and the Operation Pollinator Bees’nSeeds for insects and birds.

“The survey findings will help to focus new initiatives to answer growers’ specific questions on seed mixes for different soil types, managing weed control with conservation or cover crops and long-term management of environmental areas within a whole farm rotation,” she advocated.

Syngenta research continues to assess and quantify the role of both cover crops and companion crops within practical farming systems, including comparing conventional plough-based cultivations and regenerative agriculture establishment.

All the Operation Pollinator seed mixes are supplied with full agronomic information to help growers and agronomists achieve good establishment and get the greatest environmental and agronomic benefits from their use.

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