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The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme represents a pivotal shift in agricultural subsidies, promoting environmental stewardship. There are numerous schemes which require an appropriate SFI seed mix. This article examines the scheme options requiring the sowing and establishment of an SFI seed mixtures to align with SFI scheme guidelines.

Understanding the multifaceted SFI scheme codes is integral for farmers aiming to make informed decisions. It’s a matrix of options, each designed to foster biodiversity and ecological balance, translating into tangible benefits for the land and wildlife. The selection of the appropriate seed mix not only supports wildlife but also contributes to the farm’s resilience.

 

Choosing the Right SFI Mixtures for Your Farm

Choosing the right seed mix for your farm is vital for enhancing biodiversity, soil health, and the overall sustainability of agricultural practices. The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) offers a range of options requiring seed, including tailored options such as SAM3 and AHL1, designed to create a healthy habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects.

SAM3, a carefully composed seed mixture, brings together grasses, legumes, and herbs. This diversity contributes to the development of nitrogen-rich, deep-rooting swards that enhance soil quality and nutrient balance. Meanwhile, the SFI AHL1 mix, also known as Pollen and Nectar Flower, focuses on establishing a wide range of species, particularly flowering ones, which provide a rich source of nectar. This diversity not only sustains essential pollinators but also supports natural predators of crop pests, integral for natural pest management.

Opting for the correct SFI seed mixtures results in improvements in soil structure, fertility, and carbon content by incorporating a range of grass species and flowering species with varied root structures. Customizable to different farming systems, these mixments prove the adaptability of SFI seeds to meet specific on-farm needs.

Selecting the right SFI seed blend is a strategic decision that fosters a healthier farm ecosystem and leads to long-term benefits. Attention should be paid to choosing an appropriately balanced mixtures, not just one that ticks the boxes.

SFI | Scheme Codes

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme is an integral component of UK’s agricultural policy, providing farmers with options to engage in environmentally sustainable practices. Seed mixtures developed for the SFI scheme are crafted to fulfill specific environmental objectives, enhancing biodiversity and bolstering farm ecosystem services. These schemes and mixtures include a variety of grasses and flowering species tailored to promote improvements in soil health, foster beneficial insect habitats, and sustain a range of fauna.

The SFI schemes are diverse, covering actions from the establishment of nectar flower-rich habitats to the creation of Buffer strips which benefit water bodies bordering agricultural land. Here is a quick summary of the main schemes and the payments available for them that require an SFI Seed Mix. The below is a summary of the schemes that require the sowing of an SFI seed mix and the payments that are available*.

SFI Scheme Payment Per Year SFI Scheme Payment Per Year
SFI AHL1 Pollen and Nectar Flower £739/ha SFI IPM2 Flower Rich Margins £798/ha
SFI AHL2 Winter Bird Food £853/ha SFI IPM3 Companion Crops £55/ha
SFI AHL3 Grassy Field Corners £590/ha SFI NUM2 Legumes on Improved Grassland £102/ha
SFI ALH4 Buffer Strips £515/ha SFI NUM3 Legume Fallow £593/ha
SFI IGL3 Buffer Strips £235/ha SFI SAM2 Multi Species Winter Cover £129/ha
SFI IGL2 Winter Bird Food on Improved Grassland £515/ha SFI SAM3 Herbal Leys £382/ha

*Details of schemes any payments taken from gov.uk in July 2024

Watson Seeds | SFI Seed Mixtures

Grass Seed Online’s partner company for for agricultural seed and SFI scheme seed mixtures is Watson Seeds. For any enquiries for SFI seed mixtures, please contact them on 01368 840655, enquiries@watsonseeds.com or visit the Watson Seeds website. 

Watson Seeds is a long established seed merchant located in the south of Scotland, serving the breadth of the United Kingdom with a dedication to excellence in grass seed and small seed supply. With a profound specialisation in these domains, Watson Seeds has established a reputable identity in the agricultural sector. The company offers a wide range of seed varieties, ensuring that every farmer’s unique needs are met with precision and care. Moreover, Watson Seeds stands out with its team of specialists who are not merely distributors but also advisors, equipping farmers with invaluable knowledge and guidance pertaining to the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme. This expertise enables them to make informed decisions about their soil and environmental management practices, utilising the correct seed mixture to harmonise farming activities with ecological stewardship.

Buy SFI Seed Mixtures | Watson Seeds

SFI Scheme | Options Overview:

In total there are 12 different schemes that require the sowing of appropriate seed species or a specific SFI seed mix. We have given a summary of the different schems below along with a brief description of their aims and purposes.

SFI AHL1: Pollen and Nectar Flower

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) is a crucial component of modern agricultural practices, designed to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services on farmlands. Among its key measures, the SFI AHL1 Pollen and Nectar Flower seed option constitutes a vital initiative to support pollinators and beneficial insects. This particular seed option requires a season-long provision of nectar, commencing in late spring and extending throughout summer, thereby establishing vital sustenance and habitats for pollinators.

Structured as a rotational farming strategy within the SFI scheme, SFI AHL1 integrates diverse plant varieties specifically chosen for their nectar-producing capabilities. The inclusion of species such as Common Vetch, Sainfoin, Red and Alsike Clover, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Oxeye Daisy, and Yarrow ensures a wide range of foraging opportunities for pollinators.

Aim:

To establish areas with a pollen and nectar flower mix that produce flowering plants from late spring through summer.

Purpose:

  1. Provide Food for Beneficial Pollinators:
    • Support pollinators such as bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, and hoverflies by providing them with essential food sources.
  2. Encourage Natural Crop Pest Predators:
    • Enhance the habitat for natural predators of crop pests as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy, especially when these areas are situated close to cropped fields.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Bee Mix

SFI AHL2: Winter Bird Food

The SFI AHL2 Winter Bird Food seed option is a crucial element within the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme, designed to bolster habitat biodiversity through the provision of vital winter food sources for birds on arable lands. This SFI seed mix option contributes to the AHl (Actions for Farmland Wildlife) range of options, focusing on wildlife conservation through sustainable agriculture practices.

Integrating the Winter Bird Food SFI seed mix under AHL2 into farming practices not only supports the overarching goals of environmental stewardship but also enhances biodiversity conservation on farms. By incorporating this SFI seed mixture, farmers can adhere to SFI initiatives that prioritize the maintenance and sustenance of a healthy ecosystem within the agricultural domain.

Aim:

To establish areas of winter bird food that produce a supply of small seeds for smaller farmland birds from late autumn until late winter.

Purpose:

  1. Provide Food Resources for Farmland Birds:
    • Ensure a consistent supply of small seeds for farmland birds during late autumn and winter.
  2. Encourage Flowering Plants in Summer:
    • Benefit insects such as bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, and hoverflies by promoting summer flowering plants.
  3. Support Integrated Pest Management (IPM):
    • Place these areas close to cropped fields to support IPM practices.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Winter Bird Food   Winter Bird Food 2   Bumblebird

SFI AHL3: Grassy Field Corners

Within the SFI scheme framework, the SFI AHL3 seed mix gives farmers the option to establish grassy field corners. This provides a habitat for wildlife and allows the farmer the option of taking out of production areas that are usually less viable for production.

Aim:
To maintain an intact grass sward throughout the year, free from tracks, compacted areas, or poaching, allowing tussocky grass to develop.

Purpose:

  1. Provide Year-Round Habitat for Wildlife:
    • Ensure a continuous habitat for various wildlife species by maintaining healthy, tussocky grass areas.
  2. Support Integrated Pest Management (IPM):
    • Enhance the effectiveness of IPM strategies by situating these grass areas close to cropped fields, promoting biodiversity and natural pest control.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Basic Margin Mix

SFI ALH4: Buffer Strips

This option allows for a 4m to 12m buffer strip to be sown and established around arable and horticultural land.

Aim:

To establish a grass buffer strip with an intact grass sward throughout the year, free from tracks, compacted areas, or poaching.

Purpose:

  1. Protect Existing Landscape and Heritage Features:
    • Preserve and maintain the natural landscape and cultural heritage by preventing physical damage and disturbance.
  2. Provide Habitat for Wildlife:
    • Create a habitat that supports biodiversity, providing shelter, food, and nesting sites for various wildlife species.
  3. Prevent Pollutants in Surface Water Runoff:
    • Act as a natural filter to reduce pollutants such as sediment and nutrients from entering watercourses through surface runoff, thereby improving water quality.
  4. Support Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Approach:
    • Enhance farm resilience and reduce operational costs by promoting natural pest control methods through increased biodiversity near cropped areas.
    • Encourage habitats for natural predators of pests, reducing the need for chemical pesticides and fostering a balanced ecosystem.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Basic Margin Mix   Tussock Forming   Beetlebank Mixture   Mat Forming

SFI IGL3: Buffer Strips

SFI IGL3 Buffer Strips play a crucial role in the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme. Their implementation on farmlands serves as a preventative measure against soil erosion and as a mechanism for scavenging nitrogen, thereby improving soil health and fertility. The success of SFI IGL3 Buffer Strips lies in their composition, which is a carefully selected seed mixture.

These seed mixtures are tailored to reflect sustainable farming priorities, using species that contribute to soil structure enhancement and encourage biodiversity. By establishing these vegetative strips, farmers can support a range of ecosystems while advancing their agricultural method.

Aim:
To maintain a grass buffer strip with an intact grass sward throughout the year, free from tracks, compacted areas, or poaching.

Purpose:

  1. Protect Existing Landscape and Heritage Features:
    • Preserve the natural and cultural landscape by maintaining undisturbed grass buffer strips.
  2. Provide Habitat for Wildlife:
    • Support local wildlife by offering a continuous, undisturbed habitat.
  3. Prevent Pollutants from Entering Watercourses:
    • Reduce the risk of pollutants such as sediment and nutrients being carried into surface water runoff by situating these grass buffer strips next to watercourses.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Basic Margin Mix   Tussock Forming   Beetlebank Mixture   Mat Forming

SFI IGL2: Winter Bird Food on Improved Grassland

A component of the scheme includes various SFI Seed Mixtures, tailored to support specific environmental benefits. The SFI IGL2 Winter Bird Food on Improved Grassland is one such seed mix, created to bolster food availability for birds during the critical winter months.

SFI IGL2 comprises a carefully curated SFI seed mix. This mix typically features a range of grasses, along with legumes and other flowering species which are essential in providing a diet rich in nutrients for avian species during the winter. The SFI IGL2 is especially suitable for the enhancement of improved grasslands, transforming them into a supportive habitat for birds as temperatures drop.

Aim:
To allow grassland field corners or blocks to be taken out of active management, promoting the development of tussocky grass.

Purpose:

  1. Provide Year-Round Habitat for Wildlife:
    • Create continuous habitats to support a diverse range of wildlife species throughout the year.
  2. Support Integrated Pest Management (IPM):
    • Enhance IPM strategies by promoting biodiversity and natural pest control when these unmanaged grass areas are situated close to cropped fields.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds:

SFI IPM2: Flower Rich Margins

The SFI IPM2 option, focuses on the establishment of flower-rich margins, blocks, or in-field strips that serve as integral components for sustaining wildlife habitats.

These flowering zones, achieved through the use of specialized seed mixtures, not only contribute to the aesthetic beauty of the farmlands but also play a critical role in supporting a wide range of species, including pollinators and natural pest predators. The seed mix design for SFI IPM2 is specifically engineered for creating these biodiversity-rich environments.

Adhering to specified sowing rates is essential for the successful establishment of the diverse floral and grass species that form these margins. The resulting flora-rich grass margins bring numerous benefits, such as improvements in soil health and soil structure, and serve as long-term insect habitats that are crucial for ecological sustainability.

For landowners participating in the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme, implementing SFI IPM2 Flower Rich Margins is a strategic approach to enhancing the ecological value of farmland, contributing to a landscape teeming with biodiversity and natural beauty.

Aim:
To establish grass margins, blocks, or in-field strips that contain flowering plants during the summer months into early autumn.

Purpose:

  1. Encourage Natural Crop Pest Predators:
    • Support Integrated Pest Management (IPM) by promoting habitats for natural crop pest predators when these areas are located close to cropped fields.
  2. Provide Habitat and Foraging Sites for Invertebrates and Birds:
    • Create habitats and foraging sites for invertebrates, including natural crop pest predators and wild pollinators such as bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, and hoverflies.
    • Offer resources for farmland birds.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Flower Rich Margin

SFI IPM3: Companion Crops

Within the framework, SFI IPM3 Companion Crops play a crucial role by complementing Oilseed Rape (OSR) crops through strategic plant partnerships. The inclusion of Buckwheat and Fenugreek as companion crops serves multiple purposes in sustainable agricultural practices.

Buckwheat, with its broad canopy, provides an ecological advantage by shading out competing weeds, therefore reducing the need for chemical herbicides. Additionally, it contributes to the aesthetics of farm landscapes with its attractive flowers. Fenugreek is noteworthy for emitting a strong natural odor that effectively conceals the scent of OSR from pests, potentially lowering the need for synthetic pesticides.

Both of these companion crops have been selected for their frost sensitivity, which ensures they do not regrow after winter, thus maintaining the intended crop rotation without interference. Furthermore, their respective abilities to scavenge nutrients in the soil improves soil health and structure. By incorporating Buckwheat and Fenugreek, farmers can expect a more productive OSR yield in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Sowing these companion crops aligns with a movement towards increased biodiversity and responsible nutrient management in modern farming.

Aim:
To establish a companion crop that supports multiple ecological and agricultural functions.

Purpose:

  1. Support Integrated Pest Management (IPM):
    • Act as a trap crop to attract pests away from the main crop.
    • Suppress weeds, reducing the need for chemical herbicides.
  2. Provide Habitat for Birds and Invertebrates:
    • Create a habitat for birds and beneficial invertebrates, including pollinators and natural crop pest predators.
  3. Manage Nutrient Efficiency:
    • Enhance nutrient uptake and utilization, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.
  4. Protect and Improve Soil Condition:
    • Prevent soil erosion and compaction.
    • Improve soil structure and fertility through organic matter addition.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Companion Crop 1 Companion Crop 2

SFI NUM2: Legumes on Improved Grassland

The incorporation of legumes in grassland management is an integral strategy under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) NUM2 criteria. This innovative approach underscores the commitment to sustainable farming practices that not only bolster soil fertility but also sustain the vitality of grassland ecosystems. This option allows for the sowing of legumes into areas of existing grassland or sowing a mixture of grasses and legumes. One or more types of legumes can be used, such as; Red Clover, White Clover, Alsike Clover, Sainfoin, Lucerne and Birdsfoot Trefoil.

Aim:
To encourage the presence of legumes from spring until early autumn.

Purpose:

  1. Manage Nutrient Efficiency:
    • Enhance nutrient uptake and utilization, especially nitrogen fixation, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.
  2. Protect the Soil Surface:
    • Prevent soil erosion by providing ground cover, reducing the impact of rainfall and wind.
  3. Maintain Soil Structure and Support Soil Biology:
    • Promote root growth that maintains soil structure and supports beneficial soil microorganisms.
    • Minimize nutrient leaching, soil erosion, and runoff by stabilizing the soil and improving its organic matter content.
  4. Support Integrated Pest Management (IPM):
    • Enhance IPM strategies by promoting biodiversity and natural pest control when these legumes are situated close to cropped fields.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Herbal Ley Basic RejuvenationHerbal Ley Diverse RejuvenationClover MixtureClover Rejuvenation Mixture

SFI NUM3: Legume Fallow

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme introduces an option for farmers seeking to bolster soil health and contribute to biodiversity on their lands with the SFI NUM3 Legume Fallow seed mixtures. Designed for convenience and efficiency, these seed blends enrich nutrient management strategies by fostering the establishment of legume fallow areas resplendent with flowering species.

Substantially, the SFI NUM3 mix is engineered to yield a wealth of flowering plants that grace the landscape from the late spring and persist well into the summer months. This succession ensures a continuous provision of vital nectar sources, fostering a thriving ecosystem within the agricultural setting. Moreover, the resulting legume-rich fallows serve dual purposes: enhancing the soil structure and inviting a diverse population of beneficial insects, which, in turn, promotes a robust natural balance.

Aim:

The aim of NUM3 is to establish a legume fallow that produces areas of flowering plants from late spring through the summer months, typically encompassing May, June, July, and August, adjusted as per local climate and conditions.

Purpose:

  1. Support Biodiversity and Habitat:
    • Create a diverse habitat with flowering plants that attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects.
    • Provide food and shelter for farmland wildlife, including birds and small mammals.
  2. Enhance Soil Health:
    • Utilize legume fallow to improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation, reducing dependency on synthetic fertilizers.
    • Enhance soil structure and microbial activity, contributing to long-term soil health and sustainability.
  3. Promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM):
    • Encourage natural pest control by attracting predators and beneficial insects to the area, supporting a balanced ecosystem near agricultural fields.
  4. Contribute to Environmental Conservation:
    • Mitigate nutrient leaching and soil erosion by stabilizing the soil surface with cover provided by legumes and flowering plants.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Legume Fallow 1Legume Fallow 2Legume & Grass Mixture

SFI SAM2: Multi Species Winter Cover

The SFI SAM2 seed mixture option stands out for its ability to enhance both soil health and biodiversity on the farm. By incorporating a variety of species in this blend, SAM2 provides multiple agronomic benefits, paramount among which is nitrogen fixation. This natural process enriches the soil by reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers and promoting improvements in soil health and structure.

Additionally, the SAM2 seed mix contributes to soil improvement, offering a sustainable approach to managing farmland. Its diverse components help prevent soil erosion, suppress weed growth, and increase the organic matter that is crucial for a healthy soil ecosystem.

The versatile nature of SAM2 Multi Species Winter Cover crops also presents forage options for grazing. This not only aids in the financial viability of the farming operation but also ensures the land can support a wide range of faunal species.

Aim:
To establish a well-developed multi-species cover crop over the winter months.

Purpose:

  1. Protect the Soil Surface:
    • Prevent soil erosion and degradation by providing ground cover during the winter.
  2. Enhance Soil Structure and Support Soil Biology:
    • Promote root growth that improves soil structure and supports a diverse soil microbiome.
  3. Minimize Nutrient Leaching, Soil Erosion, and Runoff:
    • Reduce nutrient loss and prevent soil erosion and runoff through effective soil stabilization and nutrient uptake.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Complex Cover CropCompanion Crop 1Companion Crop 2

SFI SAM3: Herbal Leys

This particular option requires a seed blend that encompasses a diverse array of grasses, clovers, chicory, and herbs, each component carefully selected for its contribution to creating a robust and fertile ley.

When considering the incorporation of an SAM3 compatible SFI seed mix into their agricultural strategy, growers must seek professional guidance to ascertain the conformity of these mixtures with both environmental objectives and agronomic viability. The repercussions of selecting an inferior seed blend extend beyond the immediate disappointment of an ineffective herbal ley. Suboptimal selections can impede productivity by failing to provide the requisite improvements in soil health, structure, and fertility.

A superior SFI SAM3 Herbal Ley ensures a dual benefit. It enhances soil qualities and biodiversity — core elements of the Sustainable Farming Incentive — while simultaneously supporting productive agricultural practices. It is an exemplification of the synergistic relationship between sustainable farming methods and effective land stewardship, fostering an equilibrium that underlies the philosophy of the SFI scheme.

Aim:
To incorporate varied root structures to improve and maintain the soil’s structure, carbon content, biology, and fertility.

Purpose:

  1. Improve Soil Structure:
    • Introduce different root types that can penetrate and aerate the soil, enhancing its physical properties and reducing compaction.
  2. Enhance Soil Carbon Content:
    • Increase organic matter in the soil through root decomposition and carbon sequestration, promoting long-term soil health and fertility.
  3. Support Soil Biology:
    • Foster a diverse soil microbiome by providing habitats and organic inputs that sustain beneficial microbial activity.
  4. Maintain Soil Fertility:
    • Enhance nutrient cycling and availability by facilitating interactions between roots, microbes, and soil minerals.

SFI Mixture Options from Watson Seeds: Herbal Ley BasicHerbal Ley DiverseHerbal Ley Diverse Grass overseeding

Disclaimer – The information contained within this article is for guidance only. For definitve advice on SFI schemes, please contact the Rural Payments Agency. Should scheme requirements change, products will change accordingly and be updated as soon as is practicable; ensure you are reading the most up to date version of the governmental guidance. Provision of seed as ordered does not constitute Grass Seed Online or Watson Seeds Ltd responsibility that the product will be accepted in an SFI/AECS/BPS scheme or any new or additional scheme which may become available. Grass Seed Online or Watson Seeds Ltd accepts no liability for products used, responsibility lies solely with scheme applicant to ensure products used will satisfy the requirements of that scheme. In case of unavailability, Grass Seed Online or Watson Seeds Ltd reserves the right to substitute any variety in any mixture with one of similar merit. Any change will be detailed on the bag label. The placing of an order constitutes an acceptance of our terms and conditions of sale by the buyer.