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Experimenting with Establishment

Cover crops are any mixture of plants which are not sold as a cash crop and are usually grown in between crops in a rotation to offer soil protection and enhancement.

They can be used regularly and at different points in the season depending on their proceeding and following crops. Ensuring that conditions are right for growth is key to their success.

A group of farmers under the Farming for A Better Climate (FFBC) initiative are looking at a range of Soil Regenerative Agriculture techniques including experimenting with ways to ensure maximum cover crop growth in Scotland by addressing when and how the crops are sown and what mixes to grow. Finding a place within a rotation for cover crops is difficult due to later maturing cash crops such as spring barley and winter wheat. However, last year the FFBC group established a cover crop directly into a standing crop two weeks prior to harvest. This allowed the cover to germinate before being covered in chopped straw at harvest. The extra two weeks of growth ensured there was enough heat and moisture in the soil to gain full soil cover for the winter months.

This year, the FFBC group aims to try it again to improve their technique. One of the group members, Ross Mitchell from Castleton Farm, has modified a sprayer to improve seed distribution after finding that spreading seed with a fertiliser spinner is unable to throw the seed far enough. Ross says “Cover crop establishment timing in the Scottish climate is critical”. Adding “this year we are planning to broadcast cover crop seed into all late harvested crops”.

By Zach Reilly, Agricultural Consultant, SAC Consulting

Read about other measures the Soil Regenerative Agriculture Group are considering and find us on Facebook and Twitter @SACFarm4Climate.

This article from Farming for a Better Climate was funded by the Scottish Government as part of Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service and first published in the Farming Scotland Magainze during May 2020.

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