'Happy New Year' to all our farmers in the Sandstone Ridge Farmer Network.
We have lots of exciting events and training sessions coming up this year which Terri Hull (our new part-time communications officer) will post on the site — keep watching this space.
As we enter this, our second year in the establishment of the Sandstone Ridge Farmer Network, we give below a quick review of some of our 2018 events as well as some further updates:
- During the long hot summer, the events on biodiversity themes were informative and highlighted good scope for pond restoration and creation.
- Those of you that attended the bat walk agreed that it was a resounding success and well worth a repeat in 2019; 'Batman' Jed being a highly engaging walk leader.
- Following the Countryside Stewardship grant round in 2018, farms have, for the most part, successfully received their grant offers and works are already underway. Some fantastic projects have been funded; restoring historic sandstone walls, reinvigorating and linking up hedgerows and adding valuable farmland bird and pollinator habitats across our group farms. As far as we understand from Natural England, we expect Countryside Stewardship Grants to be continuing in the same format for 2019. For those of you looking at yard infrastructure projects, in particular, the Water Quality Grants have been particularly useful and relatively straightforward to access, but do get in touch early for referrals to the CSF Officer for endorsements.
- Back in November, Ian Marshall and Nicky attended the Natural England National Conference which was held in Birmingham. They particularly wanted to hear more detail on DEFRA's vision for 'payments for outcomes' post-subsidy. The prevailing theme for the Conference was that 'farmer collaboration is the new norm' and that local farmer-led groups will be key to future agri-environment funding.
- There was good representation at the Conference by farmers who were broadly in support of the new aims, but an emphasis that the schemes must be well funded, that governance is proportionate to value and that claims are processed without delay.
- A key emphasis was to hear about the successes and challenges faced by other facilitation funded groups, and to find out about life after BREXIT. Delegates were told that a total of 98 Groups, with over 2370 land managers, are now delivering group training and advice. There were stories of 'farmers training farmers' and lots of enthusiasm for collaboration. Equally, however, there was some criticism of the lack of support for one-to-one advice and a general loss of faith in Stewardship as a way to incentivise good practice.
- Ideas for the new Environmental Land Management system were presented, where Basic Payments will be replaced by a system of 'public money for public goods', i.e. payments for environmental benefits, access and protection of heritage, as set out in the 256 Year Plan for the Environment. Groups such as ours should be well placed when ELM comes round, but there will be a long period of tests and trials before ELM is finally implemented.
- 'The Reaseheath College Team' has been busy training members on soil sampling in preparation for our soil workshops. We are planning two sessions on 30 January and 7 February — one looking at soil health and forage quality with the Forage for Knowledge specialists at AHDB, and the other being a practical workshop on how to calibrate your fertiliser spreader. Such events provide an opportunity to bring along your own soil analysis for feedback. Remember, the new Rules for Water that came into force last April state that you must plan fertiliser and manure applications to land using soil test results which are no more than 5 years old. Soil augurs are available to borrow if you'd like to do some sampling, and you're welcome to use the lab service at Reaseheath.