Integrated Crop Management (CPA Book)

The Site


Making the best of what you have

The farm site is a combination of its physical features, climate and location. Little can be done to change these properties, but it is important in any management system to assess the extent to which the things which cannot be altered may constrain those that can. The term integrated in ICM means that it is a combination of responsible farming practices in a whole farm policy. ICM can not be practised on any one field, or on any one crop, or in any one year. The geographical location of the farm is fixed, and the physical features cannot be altered significantly. Yet it is clear that both these factors may be an important influence in governing what may, or may not, be achievable in an ICM system. Location and climate may rule out certain crops, while topography and soil type can also dictate cultivation methods and influence energy consumption. This is why ICM does not seek to lay a set of hard and fast rules but instead gives guidance on what has to be considered and what questions need to be asked about current practices.

A survey of the physical nature of the farm itself, together with other features, such as locality and climate, is the starting point. A motorist uses a road map when planning an unfamiliar root. Similarly, a golfer playing a strange course will find hidden dangers and pitfalls unless he carries a course plan. A farm site survey fulfils much the same objective: its purpose is to identify those features that may be an asset in ICM as well as those that will be limiting factors.

Mapping the physical features

An accurate farm map is essential. This should be sufficiently detailed to show not only the farm layout with field sizes but also the nature of all field boundaries and water courses, locations of all buildings, overhead power and telephone lines. In addition, all public rights of way and any fixed natural features such as archaeological sites and rocky outcrops need to be noted. These are the fixed features and detailed information such as height of power lines or the nature of water courses is necessary in ICM planning. The slopes and aspects of the fields will also have a significant bearing on crop choice and cultivation.

Soil is the key to successful Integrated Crop Management. Knowledge of its physical characteristics needs to be supplemented with information about its structure and drainage together with those properties that can be altered, such as acidity and compaction. The state of repair of all fences, hedges and walls needs to be checked to ensure that they adequately fulfil their intended function, for example as windbreaks or livestock proofing.

Water may be free flowing or stagnant, weed infested, polluted, used for irrigation or drainage. A river may have fishing rights and there may be public right of access, both of which might affect farm management decisions. Whatever the circumstances, water is certain to be an important wildlife haven and it is also the part of the farm environment most likely to be at risk from pollution. The farm map should show as much detail as possible.

Finally the map should show detail of the age, species composition and use of woodland and hedgerows as well as the location of other wildlife habitats.

Practical implications

Climate has an important influence on the type of crop that can be grown satisfactorily. Altitude can affect climate in a number of ways. The mean temperature drops about 0.5 C for every 90m rise above sea level and every 15m rise shortens the growing season by about two days. Light interception is governed by aspect and a north-facing slope may be, on average, 1C cooler than a slope facing south. In addition, field slopes in combination with other features such as hollows, banks, walls and hedges can create frost pockets which must be avoided where sensitive early crops such as potatoes are to be grown.

Field topography is therefore one important factor in determining the farm cropping plan. Some crops need a favourable south facing aspect; others may require shelter from wind or good drainage. slopes and soil type will also determine the machinery that can operate and the potential for wind or water erosion.

Some fields may be identified as areas vulnerable to pollution, such as fertiliser or pesticide run-off, and this, too, will have a bearing on cropping. Field gateways must obviously be wide enough to allow machinery access and overhead telegraph and power lines must not impede its use. Maintenance costs must be accounted for in the farm plan.

...woodland, water and wildlife

As well as being fixed physical features of the farm, woodland and water are valuable components of the overall farm strategy. Woodland for example may have commercial value as forestry, it may be a source of farm building material, it may provide fuel or act as a useful windbreak. There may be public footpaths through it and it is certain to be a haven for a rich diversity of wildlife.

Similarly, water may be a source of irrigation water while at the same time providing landscape and amenity value. Efficient water conservation is a topic of increasing importance. In today's market, farmers and growers have to ensure that they can meet a continuing demand from consumers and retailers of produce. To achieve this they may often need the option of irrigating during the summer. Constructing reservoirs to store water during the wet months of the year requires capital outlay and careful planning. Guidance is available from DEFRA on managing farm water resources in order to meet market requirements or avoid losses in drought years.

Advice on efficient water conservation

DEFRA leaflets giving practical guidance:-

  • Irrigation scheduling - guidance on how to apply the right amount of water at the right time.
 

...buildings

Neighbouring domestic premises are particularly important because their occupants will not only be able to see much of the activity on the farm, but they will also be in the front line if anything goes wrong. This might range from spray drift damage to gardens, to pollution by noise or smells from the farm. Unoccupied buildings might well be a haven for bats and owls but they may also house rats and mice. Furthermore they may be listed buildings which will impose constraints on what may be done to them.

Non-physical site features

The locality of the farm, and the proximity to any local marketing outlets, is likely to have a significant influence on the ICM plan. There may be special risks, such as glasshouse or beekeepers, that will dictate the way in which some weedkillers and insecticides are used. Proximity to a town increases the undesirable problems of vandalism, fly-tipping and theft. This may require special security precautions for buildings and machinery and will affect the choice of fields for theft-prone vegetable crops or brassicas. Climate, especially winter weather, is likely to influence crop and variety choice and the ability to operate machinery. Finally, any special characteristics of the site need to be recorded in the farm survey. For example, is any part of it designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, or does it contain any sites of archaeological interest? The farm may be situated in a Nitrate Sensitive Area or in one of the recently designated Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. All of these involve regulations, some voluntary, others mandatory, which may affect farm practices.

Conclusion

Just because the features of the site are more or less fixed does not mean that they should be ignored in determining an ICM plan. Indeed, because they are fixed makes it important to plan a management system that makes best use of them. ICM is site specific and a thorough understanding of the features of the farm is the basis on which all other plans and actions must be determined.

The importance of a site survey

An accurate and detailed farm map is essential in order to make decisions on:

  • What is achievable, and what may not be, in an ICM system;

  • Where the opportunities lie for improvement;
  • Handling special risks (e.g. beehives, fly-tipping etc.)
  • The cropping plan;
  • Management of areas vulnerable to pollution;
  • Conservation of wildlife havens and other areas requiring special management input.
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