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June Update from Castleton Farm

An Update from Castleton

2nd June 2020

Ross Mitchel from Castleton Farm is now a couple of years into his reduced tillage system. Ross has been experimenting in a number of ways with cover crops and green manures.  Below is a summary of observations from 2nd June 2020

Patchy establishment following a late terminated cover crop

Sown too soon?

Not only has Ross been experimenting with cover crop establishment and cover crop mixes, he has also been testing cover crop destruction. Ross tried terminating a cover crop on the day of sowing to provide the cover with the maximum length of time to deliver soil benefits. Prior to sowing Ross sprayed off the cover crop with glyphosate, taking a risk and potentially creating a green bridge. Although the spring barley has emerged, it is patchy. Areas of the field do not look like they will perform as well as other areas on his farm. Ross thinks that there may be two issues in this field. Firstly, that the late terminated cover crop could have locked up nitrogen and secondly, that the heavier soil might have underlying compaction issues.

Following a cover crop

However, on other areas of Ross’ farm, spring crops following cover crops look excellent. In the autumn Ross seeded a mix of radish and mustard and has followed this with a spring crop. Ross noticed that this crop was holding the moisture under the surface, despite the dry weather. Ross decided to try to introduce livestock back onto his farm and organised for a grazier to put sheep onto his radish and mustard cover crop mixes. The sheep were grazed before Christmas of 2019, they were then removed allowing the field to green up before the cover crop was terminated.  The photos below show a field of spring barley following a mustard and radish cover crop; on the right hand side there is plenty of ground cover showing below the spring barley, helping to prevent losses due to soil erosion.

          Plenty of ground cover below a crop of spring barley to prevent soil erosion

Green manure mixtures

Ross also has an Agri Environment Climate Scheme with an option to grow a green manure. Ross has decided to trial this full summer option and has opted to try two mixes. His own mix contains phacelia, daikon tillage radish, berseem clover, spring vetch, black oats and also some spring beans broadcast onto the top. This mix comes to £60/ha for seed, but there is also an establishment cost and the loss of income from growing a cash crop. His other mix has been supplied from a seed merchant and contains 5 species. This mix is more expensive, at £86/ha and it will be interesting to find out what the differences are as the season progresses.  The photo on the left below shows the home made cover crop mix and the photo on the right shows the purchased cover crop seed mix.

Home made green manure mix at Castleton          Purchased cover crop mix at Castleton

Winter beans being grown at Castleton

Winter beans

Ross is also growing winter beans this year, and, like many growers in the area has noticed how short they are in comparison to other years. Ross said that areas of the field which lay wet over the winter months have not produced plants, however, drier areas are much better. The beans are popular among pollinators and there were many bees to be found in the crop. Ross seeded the beans at 225kg/ha and hopes to sell them on for animal feed.