Farmer Focus: Companion cropping spring barley and red clover

Companion cropping spring barley and red clover is our latest trial. We’re sowing the barley in 10cm bands every 50cm, with red clover in between.

If it grows (it may be a big “if” given the recent snow), we will use our new machine, which mows only the clover rows.

This apparent madness is driven by a wish to investigate ways of producing decent crops while dramatically decreasing the spend on grass weed control and nitrogen fertiliser.

See also: Is undersowing cereal crops with clover the next big thing?

About the author

Andy Barr
Andy Barr farms 700ha in a family partnership in Kent. Combinable crops amount to about 400ha and include milling wheat and malting barley in an increasingly varied rotation. He also grazes 800 Romney ewes and 40 Sussex cattle and the farm uses conservation agriculture methods.
Read more articles by Andy Barr

For some tips, I’ve just listened to a Base webinar from Frederik Larsen about growing lucerne and wheat together in Denmark.

Years ago we tried to grow a clover understory using white and micro varieties. However, we always ended up with too much clover and not enough crop or vice versa.

We also had trouble with clumps, so maybe stolons aren’t right for this situation.

Amazingly, I completed my Basis project on wheat and clover bi-crops about 20 years ago.

During this time, there was a lot of research about that included information from a niche government department some may remember called MAFF.

Of course there is the possibility it may never have caught on for a reason. But maybe now it could help with carbon capture.

Perhaps stacking cover crop mixes and low-input, spring crop Countryside Stewardship options might help?

I made a schoolboy error on the final field of spring barley when adjusting its seed rate.

I used a normal calculator rather than one with an agricultural error coefficient built in, and consequently ran out of seed with a couple of runs around the outside to go.

I then had a double lesson in why it might not be best to always do everything as cheaply as possible when my local seed merchant, T Denne & Sons, was not only able to let me pick up one bag at very short notice, but also very kindly changed my small trailer tyre that had given up the ghost once loaded.

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