Farmer Focus: Cover crops prove their worth

Finally, some fine weather – which, of course, came in the same week as our TB test – meant we could get back out on the fields.

We have started the spring barley drilling. Lockdown had one benefit – with little else to do, we managed to get on top of things, with kit going through the workshop ready for the right weather window.

A week of fine weather and I am back feeling behind again. It was nice while it lasted.

See also: 8 top tips for designing the right arable rotation

This year, all the spring crops are to be drilled after a cover crop mix. Years ago, this used to be just stubble turnips for sheep to graze on, but we have now upped our game and are using a five-way mix.  

Every time I see new benefits. One field was grazed by sheep, then followed by a dose of slurry, which left it not so pretty, as there was some sheep poaching and slurry tanker wheelings in some areas.

However, after drilling with the Horsch CO on dutch openers, you would not recognise any damage. The soil shrugged it off, is now draining well and has provided a good seed-bed.

I feel the cover crop mixes have the potential to give more – that is, if I am brave enough.

The recent frosts did a great job of killing off most of the cover cops, with the remaining plants barely a nuisance.

Despite this, we still reached for a dose of glyphosate and pre-emergence. Looking back, I now wish I had at least left a strip to make a comparison.  

Elsewhere on the farm, the early-drilled wheat on the heavy land is looking good.

Although there are risks to drilling early, it feels better to have a crop in than not.

Looking at some of the wet patches in fields, having stronger plants going into the winter have really helped. These wet patches bug me and putting them into stewardship is not always an option.

I will try to rotate them into a two-year grass ley – two years of uninterrupted living root will hopefully do a lot of good.

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