South: Interest in cover crops increase this year

Harvest now seems a long time ago and the exceptional dry period we have experienced has allowed drilling to progress unhindered in the South East to date. That was until Monday, when a welcome rain arrived that will hopefully provide a more widespread relief to the rapid erosion of steel on cultivation equipment.

Where grassweed pressure is high, the combination of delayed drilling and good stale seed-beds is allowing the opportunity to use an integrated approach to blackgrass control. The downward pressure grain prices is really focusing the mind on exactly how we should be growing next year’s crops. Perhaps this has been in part responsible for even more interest in cover crops. They have certainly increased with my growers this year.

I have mentioned it before, but cover crops really do have so many different connotations, with lots of different options to choose from for your particular farming enterprise. With sheep for example, a key enterprise here on the Downs for many farms, stubble turnips have long formed a valuable cover crop. They clearly provide an excellent source of energy to finish stock and over winter.

Inspired by this local practice, prior to harvest a number of potential alternative cover crops were sown as a trial directly into a standing wheat crop. The aim to evaluate what plant species work best in this situation and also evaluate ways to best estimate the levels of nutrient cycling they provide. Asking the key question, what direct benefits are produced for the proceeding cash crop?

More immediately good seed-beds and favourable conditions mean this year’s crops are all now emerging well, with little slug activity so far, but there is no room for complacency. Constant monitoring is essential, as the potential for damage is still evident. Oilseed rape has been variable as usual and generally early drilled crops have established well with less flea beetle pressure than expected.

Early drilled cereals are all coming through well and have benefited from the recent high soil temperatures. Where soil moisture levels have been sufficient, generally, all early drilled cereals have received a robust pre-emergence herbicide. It certainly feels more autumnal, but only just, as we move into this second week of October!

See more