Fast-growing cover crops such as fodder radish and Westerwolds ryegrass could offer growers the opportunity to repair damaged fields and get a head start next autumn.
Nathan Morris at consultants NIAB TAG believes although it’s a less than ideal scenario, growers whose soils are in a particularly bad condition should consider it.
“There’s a very quick turnaround with these sorts of crops, so you can get it in late April to early May and get your seed-bed in good shape in time for the autumn,” he says.
“In the meantime, while the crop is growing it’s drawing out moisture, putting down a root system and generally improving the soil structure.”
Mr Morris notes that although no one will want to willingly take land out of production, some soils – particularly in the North – are in such a poor state that even if growers did manage to get a crop in the ground it would likely struggle.
The damage to the soil will also become a big consideration and one that makes putting a cover crop in more attractive.
Most growers choosing to cultivate for this spring will more than likely be travelling in sub-optimal conditions so the damage to the soil is amplified.
“The soils are really wet so travelling on them with heavy machines will not only cause surface compaction, but it will go down through the profile,” Mr Morris says.
“This deep compaction not only damages the soil for this season but also for subsequent ones and it’s very hard to rectify.”
With amount of land left fallow set to jump by a third (see Farmers Weekly, 15 February, p55) cover crops also offer an alternative for those choosing to go down this route.
The added benefit of having a crop in the ground will help the drainage, and building the organic matter in the soil could really pay off for the autumn.
Mr Morris stresses growers should not feel pressured into feeling they have to cultivate, but if they chose to do so be aware of the conditions their soils are in and the dangers of forcing on a crop.