Through root growth, return of plant material to the soil, and associated soil biological activity, cover crops have the potential to increase soil orgainc matter, improve crop rooting capacity and nutrient uptake, increase infiltration and reduce soil erosion and asociated impacts on watercourses. But perhaps this is all too good to be true! We certainly need to understand more about the benefits on different soil types, and importantly, also the limitations and costs involved.
|We are experiemntally testing both simple and complex mixtures of cover cops at Loddington|
|Our Soil Scientist, Dr Felicity Crotty and NIAB staff gather cover crop data from experimental plots at Loddington|
We also need to consider implications for the following commercial crops and will capture crop cover and yield data, as well as associated economics, across the experimental plots this autumn. A spring oats crop in one field of cover crop plots last year delivered a yield that was about 20% higher than the bare stubble plot, sufficient to cover the costs of establishing the previous cover crop, but such benefits do not appear to follow through to the wheat crop that has followed the oats. We need to consider implications across the rotation, rather than for individual crops, and also different crop management practices. Comparisons of cover crop destruction method (sheep grazing vs. spraying) and establishment method for the following winter wheat are on our research agenda for the coming year. Watch this space. We will reveal all!