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Arable ...from previous page

Cover crops and barley The importance of managing cover crops in tandem with spring barley in the rotation was also in evidence on the trials site. A late sown cover crop was grown in autumn 2014 ahead of a first wheat in 2015 which yielded well, pointed out Mr Woodhead. For 2016 a cover crop preceded spring barley (KWS Irina at 450 seeds/ m2) which was drilled in late March. “We drilled the high rate so as not to give any black-grass a chance although care has to be taken as too high a seed rate can result in the crop falling over. “We want a competitive barley crop but stiffness and brackling resistance should be considered, and so variety choice is important.” According to Mr Woodhead, the

The importance of managing cover crops in tandem with spring barley in the rotation was also in evidence at the trials site.

cover crop was destroyed on the 6th December 2016 and sprayed again on the 16th March 2017, with a good result in terms of black-grass. But he said there was more in evidence than he’d have liked, and certainly more than in the successful “System 3” which featured spring wheat and cover crops. “Part of the trouble was because the cover crop was drilled on the 25th August, volunteer barley swamped it so that black-grass which should have come up in the autumn couldn’t, and came up later in the crop. “But we learn from our mistakes,” he added.

No herbicide Another plot was set up to mimic “System 3” (cover crop in the autumn followed by spring wheat) but this time with no residual herbicide and the addition of berseem clover with the spring wheat to help further suppress black-grass. “This didn’t work,” said Mr Woodhead. “We’d let the black-grass in by not including the residual herbicide. Rather than try and be clever by drilling a cover crop with the spring wheat, we would have done better to have focused on black-grass control from the start with herbicide.”

Another so-called ‘re-start’ plot highlighted that two direct drilled spring break crops, following cover crops, resulted in two years of reducing black-grass populations. However, in the third year a cultivated crop of first wheat resulted in a “massive” return of black-grass. “Despite using the plough as a re-start with this rotation, two years of cover and spring crops is not necessarily the answer even after the plough. If you are starting with a low level of black-grass then maybe two years of break crops and then a return to wheat is OK, but not if you are starting with high pressure,” advised Mr Woodhead. “For this season we reverted to a cover crop followed by spring wheat but it was still unviable and we had to spray the crop off. In this instance we can’t plough as it is too soon after the last time and will bring viable black-grass seed to the surface, and so it will have to have perhaps two years of no crops to retrieve the situation. “All that good work earlier in the rotation has been undone but it shows that farmers will have to be more reactive to the problems they face each season and be prepared to change what they are

doing,” added Mr Woodhead.

A real benefit “Cover crops are helping to change the soil moisture level and structure of heavy land ahead of drilling spring cereals, and they can bring a benefit to both crop yield and black-grass control,” summed up Mr Hemmant. “It’s important that they don’t smother the ground, and that they remain open enough to allow blackgrass to germinate within them,” he reminded. “However, we are showing here that although cover crops and spring break crops are working, it also demonstrates how quickly you can go from a good position to a bad one. “When we are in a muddle it can take a big effort to get it back again! “That said, two of the rotations we are operating here are growing profitable crops and because there has been a massive switch to spring cropping in the UK, we are trying to help those on similarly heavy land sites like this. “The big gain too is for those who aren’t in a muddle yet. We hope we can show them something to learn from, and which offers a prompt for them to change,” he added. ■ See us at the BRITISH NATIONAL PLOUGHING CHAMPIONSHIPS in October 10% OFF with this advert!

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Farmers Guide Magazine August 2017 Issue