Using cover crops to protect our soils
The importance of upholding soil health and sustaining its productivity for the future is essential. No matter what the enterprise, we are reliant on soil for all production, either to produce our crops or forage to feed livestock.
Crops and their effect on soil health
Rising input costs have led to a greater emphasis being placed on the importance of fertile soils with good structure. A single crop can deplete soils of up to 5% of soil organic matter each year which can have a detrimental effect on soil health in the long term if organic matter is not replenished. Therefore, it is vital that measures are taken to conserve soil, which some may say is our most valuable resource.
The benefits of cover crops
There are numerous ways in which we can protect our soils and improve their quality, one of which is incorporating cover crops into rotations in order to provide a living, green cover at times when the soil might otherwise be left bare.
Cover crops can prove an effective means of contributing to soil health and quality when incorporated into a rotation. The utilisation of cover crops can help make a dramatic improvement to soil conditions, aiding the management of soil structure, water and nutrients.
Cover crops help to:
- Improve soil structure
- Mitigate nutrient leaching and soil erosion
- Reduce weed pressure
- Enhance fertility
- Reduce soil-borne pests and disease
Using a combination of cover crop mixtures
The inclusion of a range of species within cover crop mixtures ensures an effective combination of benefits are provided to the soil. This is owing to the beneficial soil enhancing properties of each individual species, from legumes that fix nitrogen such as clovers, to fast-growing species like phacelia that suppress weeds or those that are deep rooting, such as radish, which draw nutrients from deep within the soil profile.
Plan ahead to sow as soon as possible
With all options, the earlier the crop is in the ground, the bigger the potential impact of the cover crop therefore you should plan ahead so you are ready to sow as soon as possible. The drilling date of both the cover crop and the succeeding cash crop will also help select the mixture or species chosen.
Consider current crop rotation when choosing your cover crop
The current crop rotation must be considered to decide which species are included. For instance, if a certain species is already in the rotation, such as a brassica, its inclusion as a cover crop should be avoided to prevent the build-up of either pests or disease within the soil, as this could have a negative effect on the cash crop.
Know your soil type
Some species do not thrive when grown on specific soil types. For example, buckwheat dislikes wet, heavy, compacted soils. Therefore, the site will play a factor in determining the species established. Good levels of soil moisture are important for ensuring that species can emerge as quickly as possible hence conditions at the time of sowing must also be taken into account.
Have a question about cover crops? - Speak to a member of the team
Whether you are looking for maximum biomass above ground or deep-rooting to improve conditions below the soil surface, we can help advise on the best crop or mixture to suit. Taking actions to improve soil conditions will only have a positive effect on subsequent cash crops.
Speak to a member of the team for more information and advice.