New Year, New Ideas, New Goals – Cover Crops

Hello, my name is Willie Russell, and I am the Group Agricultural Product Specialist for Scot Agri. That’s a fancy job title I hear you think, let me break that down for you. I help our Sales Engineers show customers machines, I demo machines, I install new machines, and do revisits to make sure you, the customer, are happy with the product that you have purchased.  I also deal with the technology side of agricultural machinery, whether that’s precision land management, telematics or mapping. I work with all of the brands that Scot Agri sell including JCB, Massey Ferguson, Horsch, Berthoud, and KRM to name a few! Now I write a blog too! Over this year I plan on speaking about many different aspects of the agricultural industry (hopefully not just moaning about the weather) and for my first instalment, I’m talking about the benefits of cover crops. 

With the wet weather that seems to be getting more common in the winter, and unfortunately the summer too, (more deluges of rain), more farmers are looking into the advantages of cover crops. Is having something growing in the fields during winter better for the soil? It makes sense, doesn’t it? 

How Cover Crops Work 

For anyone who doesn’t know, cover crops are typically grown over a single winter to cover bar soil and stubble. Having something growing in the field, will reduce erosion and reduce the loss of nutrients through leaching.  You might be saying to yourself, “yes Willie this sound looks great on paper but I bet it is expensive to do?” 

Well, the answer to that question is yes and no! It can be as expensive as you want it to be. There are hundreds of cover crops out there, that can do amazing things to the soil.  Legumes for example produce nitrogen which would hopefully, in time mean that you could reduce the amount of artificial nitrogen that you are applying.  Or you could just get the grain bucket and fill it up of leftover barley from the year before, tip it into the drill and away you go! 

I am fortunate enough to have been involved with lots of cover crop tests covering different varieties and methods of establishment.   

The most impressive test (for cheap establishment) that I have seen was a fertiliser spreader filled with Phacelia, Vetch and leftover barley mixed together.  This was then spread over a crop of spring barley that was 10 days away from being harvested.  When it came time for the combine to run through, there it was!  It had germinated, on top of the ground, with no cultivation, granted not all of it had germinated, but it was at least 70% germination. That crop then kept growing over the winter and was ploughed in and sown into a cash crop in the spring.  

Or you could go the other way. Use a no till/min till drill like a Horsch Avatar or Pronto and go straight into the stubble straight after the combine and the earlier the better! I have seen drills on one side of the field and the combine still cutting on the other side of the field before. With this system, it gives the cover crop the best start, seed-to-soil contact, depth for moisture (not normally an issue!) and you will hopefully get a nice even cover crop over the field.   

Well, that’s Blog number one complete! I have only scratched the surface on cover crops, but hopefully, I have given you something to read that has triggered some possible ideas to try.  

Hopefully, you will come back next month and if you want to request any topics just drop me an email willie.russell@scotagri.co.uk  

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