Farmer Focus: Will a cover crop cure my patchy field?

While much of the summer rainfall area of South Africa has received flooding rain, I have just received enough to finish planting.

We needed to have finished planting by the end of November, last year I got it all in by the 47th of November (think about it…) so all is good.

Last month I spoke about a problem field that I needed to work and sow to a summer cover crop.

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This field had a serious plough pan and very patchy in yield. From soil chemical analysis I ascertained that the poor yielding areas were acidic and low in organic matter.

So I put this field into intensive care. I ripped through the plough pan, applied lime and disked that lime in.

I then broadcast a 10 species cover crop mix, (black oats, white oats, white mustard, forage rape, turnip, radish, cow pea, sunn hemp, sunflower, buck wheat, millet, sorghum), over the soft disked soil and rolled it.

The following week was cool and rainy, perfect conditions for germination.

Emergence and growth

As you could imagine, this cover crop is up like hairs on a dog’s back. Well, almost.

There are patches in the land where emergence and growth are slow and the stand isn’t as good.

At first I thought that the spreader had blocked in places, but then I realised that the weak patches correlated with the same weak patches from last year’s cash crop.

Lime has been applied, so that eliminates acidity. The only difference now is soil organic matter content. The soil in the weak patches is visibly lighter in colour.

This illustrates to me again the importance of organic matter in the soil. Ironically, I am growing the cover crop to improve organic matter and those areas that need it the most are battling.

All is not lost. There is growth in those weak areas so I am sure that the species mix that I have chosen will grow and do its magic to the soil.

I am confident that this cover crop will take those weaker areas out of intensive care to healthy high productive soil.


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