“Now that the hedge cutting season has finished, it’s a good time to reflect on the farm’s approach to hedgerow and headland management,” writes Martin Lole head of Mzuri.
“As well as doing its bit for conservation, it’s great news for farm profitability and weed control. A few simple practices such as extra wide headlands and regular hedge cutting can make a huge difference without the need to put in a mammoth effort: all we do on our farm is mow the headlands once a year straight after combining and cut the hedges in January every other year.
Our headlands are approximately four metres wide from the hedge for a reason. We take our headland management very seriously and think that, when done correctly, the extra width more than pays for itself in ways of better weed control, a cleaner crop and more consistent yields from corner to corner of the field.
We have approximately three metres of grass along the hedge rows and an 800mm-900mm sterile strip lining the field which stop the grass weeds from creeping into the crop. A wider sterile margin is a really effective yet a cheap way to control weeds and it has helped us to quickly eliminate brome and black grass across the whole farm since we’ve gone wider.
Not only good headland management aids weed control, it’s very much appreciated by the wildlife. The beautiful wild flowers and new vegetation supports the wildlife in the spring whereas the sterile strip provides an exposed area for the birds to dry themselves out in and enjoy the sunshine. This is critical for some game birds such as partridges and pheasants for which the ability to dry out in a wet spring is a matter of life or death.
We mow all of our headlands from the bottom of the hedge right up to the field border which is done almost directly behind the combine with a five-metre rotary mower. It mulches all the rubbish and leaves the hedges looking tidy and presentable.
Good headland management also makes hedge cutting in January and February much easier. The hedges are clean of grass weeds, the visibility is better and the extra width can easily accommodate the tractor without damaging the crop.
Regular hedge maintenance is better for wildlife as it creates a tighter network of branches for the smaller birds to hide in, protecting them from the larger predators. Our policy on the farm is to trim them every two years and to delay the job until January. This time of the year, the wood is at an easiest and safest stage to cut as it’s more brittle and dry. Furthermore, we’re not upsetting the wildlife by removing its winter’s larder as, come January, most berries will have gone.
The timing makes perfect sense from the workload point of view too as there’s little else to do on farm in January. I find it rather nice and relaxing to sit in my warm tractor on a cold winter’s day: what a better way to take a grand tour of the farm and get a job done at the same time!