Boost spring barley yields by 35% with cover crops

Growing a cover crop ahead of spring barley can give a 35% yield boost where no extra nitrogen was applied, new trials have shown.

Salisbury seed company Bright Seeds – in conjunction with breeder DSV – looked at the benefit of using cover crops such as radish, established in August of the previous year.

Spring barley plots established after the radish yielded 6.49t/ha, compared with just 4.8t/ha where no cover crop was used.

Where nitrogen was applied at rates between 90-180kg/ha, the yield advantage from establishing a cover crop was narrower, but still gave a useful benefit of between 0.5-0.75t/ha.

Commercial director of Bright Seeds Richard Bright says the benefit of catch cropping in this way is clear and a pointer for the future.

“Post-harvest soil mineral nitrogen samples showed the catch crop also helped achieve better use of residual N, even at soil depths as low as 90cm.

“By soaking up residual nitrogen in this way, the cover crop is also reducing leaching and run-off into water courses,” says Mr Bright.

When using cover crops, rooting structure helps to break up the soil through the profile to improve soil structure and when incorporated as a “green manure”, both crop and root residues give an organic matter and nutritional boost.

The crops also provide competition for weeds, which ultimately results in a reduction of the weed seed bank and incidence in the following crop.

These factors mean less cultivation is required to prepare an adequate seed-bed in the spring and less fertiliser and herbicide inputs are needed once the spring barley crop is established.

“Such cropping is well practiced in Europe, but not in the UK, and for such techniques to be widespread here it will be necessary for the government to step up to the plate and help fund nationwide trials.

“This will help farmers become more familiar with the processes involved and the benefits they can provide,” says Mr Bright.

 Cover crop yield benefits for spring barley (t/ha)  
  Catch crop (Radish)  No catch crop 
No N  6.49  4.82 
90kg/ha  7.03   6.35 
120kg/ha  7.13  6.56 
150kg/ha  7.35  6.57 
180kg/ha  7.45  6.93 

More on this topic

Cover crops to control potato cyst nematodes

Need a contractor?

Find one now