Farmers drilling stewardship mixes are encouraged to plan ahead and review planting conditions, while refraining from rushing to get crops in the ground.
Amy Watts, environmental seeds product manager at Wynnstay, highlights that environmental stewardship mixes require the same level of attention at planting as cash crops.
“It doesn’t matter whether a stewardship mix is being planted as part of a Countryside Stewardship agreement, the Glastir scheme in Wales or if a farm is trialling the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI); the mixes need attention to detail to achieve the full benefits,” she says.
As with cash crops, stewardship mixes such as herbal leys, wildflower margins and bird feed mixes need planning and preparation ahead of planting.
“It’s not a case of simply using an area of non-productive land and hoping for the best,” she notes.
“The location needs to be carefully considered when choosing a stewardship mix. Wildflower mixes tend to thrive on less fertile sites, as grasses and weeds will establish too quickly in a nutrient-rich soil and smother the wildflowers.”
Ms Watts also recommends analysing the soil fertility and understanding the crop requirements pre-planting. “Wild bird seed mixes containing cereals tend to have higher nutrient requirements and may need fertiliser to be applied. This will support the production of grain later in the season, to provide a vital food source for farmland birds during the winter months. Soil analysis prior to sowing is also good practice.
“Also, under stewardship, these mixes need to be cut at certain times, so plan ahead to ensure the site will be accessible at the time it needs to be cut.”
Most stewardship mixes have a recommended sowing time from April to May, but Ms Watts cautions against simply following the calendar.
“We’re all aware that conditions vary hugely from one spring to the next. So, take this into consideration at planting,” she says. “Soil temperatures need to be around 8°C, as late frosts can prevent the establishment of legumes, brassica, herbs and wildflowers, so it’s often worth holding off if you’re expecting a cold snap.”
For any environmental mix, she recommends thorough preparation of the seed bed to ensure it is free from weeds, clean and cultivated to a fine tilth. “With a bit of extra time, it’s possible to encourage a flush of weeds and spray these off ahead of drilling the mix, to reduce competition as the mix establishes,” she says.
Ms Watts also advises checking recommendations for the drilling depth. “With environmental mixes, there always has to be a bit of a compromise for drilling depth, as the species in the mix will have different optimum depths for establishment.
“For example, many small seeds, such as herbs, need a shallow depth or even to be broadcast, because they’re slow to establish and likely to fail if drilled deep,” she adds.
“For anyone who is unsure where to start, first step would be to your seed supplier to discuss options and how to get the most out of environmental stewardship mixes,” concludes Ms Watts.