Published by AMTEC on 07th Jul 2021


How can you make it work for you?

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Edward Earnshaw, a farmer in the Midlands, encourages others to see existing stewardship schemes to ease operations on the farm and increase profitability.


Edward, who farms two arable units with his father in Gloucestershire and Leicestershire, has been in a Mid-Tier agreement for the last four years and is in the process of applying for a new five-year scheme to follow on. He is one of several farmers involved in Defra’s Tests and Trials for the future ELMs scheme. He sees stewardship as a bridge between the reduction of Basic Payments and the new Sustainable Farm Incentive.

We asked him to share his thoughts on the stewardship scheme:

“This is about identifying where stewardship can make a greater profit than existing operations on-farm,” says Mr Earnshaw. With ELMs not planned to start until 2024 and payments coming after this, Mr Earnshaw wonders why farmers would not want to increase profit sooner. "If I said to any farmer, they can use what they are already doing or add a few simple things to help the main farming activity; they would not want to wait 4-5 years to see the money in the bank! When I meet farmers, I say stewardship is a tool, the environmental benefits have been pre-determined, so let’s look at the practical options to use in the right place which help the farming business.” Mr Earnshaw says he and his father have different options to suit the different soil types on each unit. Even though both traditionally grew wheat, barley, and oilseed rape, the farm in Gloucestershire is thin Cotswold brash. Although crops performed well, the average arable profit over the rotation was still lower than the Leicestershire unit.

“I was never going to compete with the clay loam soil type we have in Leicestershire, even by occasionally outperforming on break crops. I did some benchmarking and simple sums looking at whole rotation performance. Between us, we came up with the idea of half wheat and half fallow on the lighter land and not to grow break crops. In Leicestershire, we only took out the poor yielding areas along the brook and incorporated some wide grass margins. We thought £200/acre for grass set aside on the worst parts of the farm was a good idea.”

And what has the impact been on profitability? “The wheat yields may be a little lower in the fallow rotation, but the overall rotation performance is much higher. Matching or outperforming the better soil type on a simple profit per acre over the farm in any year. Last year with the bad weather, the smaller unit in Gloucestershire made more profit overall, largely owing to the poor OSR harvest in Leicestershire.”

“By fixing an income, you only need one in five to be a bad year for it to work out better over the 5-year stewardship agreement.” Mr Earnshaw says that while some farmers would see the one year fallow as ‘too radical’, others around the country, particularly on sandy soils in East Anglia, were doing the same to equal success. "In a late harvest, we do not have to wait for the combine before starting autumn fieldwork, nor does the soil suffer from heavy traffic. We can get on early, apply muck and get the wheat in when we have good conditions. The fallow also allows us to control blackgrass in the spring, but mainly, it is about fixing an income and making the whole farming operation simpler. Even the contractors have come to like it.”

Two years ago, Mr Earnshaw diversified and started helping other farmers with ‘practical and profitable’ stewardship applications and agreements, aiming to become a specialist in the field. “It is a case of marrying farmers knowledge of their land with the practicalities of different options,” he says, adding his father had come around to the benefits of using stewardship in the right places. “Now we are in our fifth year and re-applying; dad would like to do a bit more, having seen the positives over time.”

You can contact Edward on 07917 156 777 or email: [email protected]

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