Hutchinsons: Omnia soil management plans launched

Farmacy agronomist Rebecca Firth
Farmacy agronomist Rebecca Firth.

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,  and grassland, and is the first part of the UK Government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), one of three schemes that’ll 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 2022, so the changes to Omnia, built around a central soil management plan, come at an ideal time for growers planning to sign up, Farmacy agronomist Rebecca Firth said.

“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/ Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure (VESS) test scores
  • 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,” Mrs Firth added.

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,” Mrs Firth said.

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,” Mrs Firth added.

The Omnia team continues to develop the system to ensure it remains up-to-date as scheme requirements change. 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.

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 urged growers not to regard it simply as a tick-box exercise.

“Look beyond doing the bare minimum necessary to qualify for a payment. 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,” she said.

The payments available within the SFI Soils Standard (see table) are much lower than initially proposed, so the real benefits are likely to come from longer-term improvements to soil health.

“That may involve changing 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,” Mrs Firth said.

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’s just the starting point from which to build,” Mrs Firth added.

“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’s 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.