Hutchinsons has added new functionality to its Omnia digital farming platform to help farmers meet the requirements of both the highly anticipated Arable & Horticultural Soils Standard and Grassland Standard.
The scheme aims to improve soil health, structure, organic matter and biology on arable, horticultural and grass land, and is the first part of the government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), one of three schemes that will eventually replace the Basic Payment Scheme.
The application window for the first two tiers of the SFI Soils Standard (Introductory and Intermediate levels) is due to open at the end of June, so the changes to Omnia, built around a central soil management plan, come at an ideal time for growers planning to sign up, says agronomist Rebecca Firth.
“Omnia provides a management platform to complete all of the SFI Soil standard requirements in a functional and easy way, allowing you to improve your soil health and gain your SFI Soils Standard payment.”
The new functionality can record all of the information needed to comply with either level of the SFI Soils Standard requirements, including:
- Soil structure/ VESS test scores (Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure)
- Soil Management Plan with suggested management actions
- Soil analysis results (either from own tests or agronomist-led services such as Healthy Soils)
- Erosion risk map (wind and water erosion risk)
- Cropping map
- Many other layers and options.
“Much of the information was already being recorded within Omnia anyway, but we’ve made it more accessible and even easier to use.”
This improved accessibility includes an updated and simplified iPhone app that allows users to upload VESS tests, worm counts, other soil assessments, pictures and notes to the Omnia platform while still in the field, with the ability to geotag information and pictures using the device’s in-built GPS.
“Information is immediately available on the web-based platform, where users can log on to carry out more detailed mapping and analysis of the data,” says Mrs Firth.
The Omnia soil management plan also allows farmers to easily generate a pdf report summarising all of the information required to comply with the SFI Soils Standard. “Users can select what they want to show in the report, and generate individual reports for different blocks of land if required, all at the click of a button.”
The Omnia team continues to develop the system to ensure it remains up-to-date as scheme requirements change, and further updates are already planned to accommodate the wider release of other SFI measures in the future, such as the Advanced Standard due in 2024.
Going above and beyond
While the Omnia soil management plan provides an ideal way of recording all of the information needed to demonstrate compliance with the SFI scheme, Mrs Firth urges growers not to regard it simply as a “tick-box” exercise.
“Look beyond doing the bare minimum necessary to qualify for a payment, and instead use the SFI Soils scheme as a catalyst for much wider-ranging changes that could deliver far more significant benefits to soil health and productivity across your farm business.”
The payments available within the SFI Soils Standard (see table) are much lower than originally proposed, so the real benefits are likely to come from longer-term improvements to soil health, she adds.
“That may involve changes to cultivation practices, altering fertiliser and nutrition strategies, altering crop rotation, or bringing in cover crops, manures or other sources of organic matter. It’s about building a more regenerative approach across many different aspects of soil management.”
Ultimately, healthier soils are better at cycling nutrients, have higher nutrient use efficiency, improved drainage and workability, and greater resilience to weather extremes, she continues. This all helps growers use inputs more efficiently, potentially reducing costs, while maximising yields.
“The SFI is about getting farmers onto the soil health ‘ladder’, but really it is just the starting point from which to build from.
“The Omnia soil management plan has been developed in a way that makes it simple for anyone to demonstrate they are meeting the minimum requirements of the SFI scheme, while also making it easy to go into far greater detail at any stage of the process, whether that is the soil assessments being made, or the management options being implemented.”
Growers can use the Omnia soil management plan themselves, or as part of a Healthy Soils service.
Go along to the Hutchinsons stand at Groundswell in Hertfordshire on 22 & 23 June 2022 to find out more and try out the service for yourself, or alternatively email email@example.com for more information.
Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard summary
|Introductory level (£22/ha)||Intermediate level (£40/ha)|
|Complete a soil assessment and produce a soilmanagement plan (assess factors such as soil type, texture, structure and biology, risks to soil (wind/water erosion and nitrogen leaching), identify historic features).
The plan should show how to manage land parcels to improve soil health and reduce the risks identified in the soil assessment
|Complete a soil assessment and produce a soilmanagement plan (as per Introductory level)|
|Test soil organic matter at least once every five years (suitable home-based tests, or lab tests are accepted)||Test soil organic matter at least once every five years|
|Add organic matter to all land in the standard at least once during the 3-year SFI standards agreement (includes manures, catch/cover crops, green manures, straw incorporation)||Add organic matter to all land in the standard at least once during the 3-year SFI standards agreement|
|Have green cover on at least 70% of land in the standard over winter (winter cover includes autumn-sown crops, cover crops and weedy stubbles)||Have green cover on at least 50% of land in this level of the standard over winter and multi-species cover crops on an additional 20% of the land|
Note: Agreements will last for three years, with payments made quarterly. The first payment will be made three months after the agreement starts.