Friday, March 22, 2019

Tackle residues to give spring crops head start

January 2, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

Properly incorporating cover crop residues ahead of drilling will give newly-sown cereals a good start this spring, say experts.

Cover crops have grown in popularity in recent years – as knowledge increases around the wider benefits they can bring to arable rotations, explains Geoffrey Bastard, technical specialist at slug pellet manufacturer Certis.

Soil structure, organic matter and overall soil health – all key factors in producing healthy crops – benefit from cover crops. But as with any crop residue or stubble on the soil surface, slugs can naturally be an issue unless properly managed.

“Ensure that crop residues are incorporated properly to help increase organic matter and reduce slug breeding habitats,” says Mr Bastard. “Cultivation choice and ensuring a consolidated seed bed will all help to encourage quick establishment to get spring cereals up and away from slugs.”

Crop management

Rolling fields when moisture is present to create a consolidated seedbed is recommended – and so too is monitoring fields for slugs.

Ferric phosphate slug pellets are also an important part of controlling the pest and fit well with an IPM strategy. Ferric phosphate has a low environmental profile and is suited to catchment sensitive farming areas, with no buffer zones required, says Mr Bastard.

“A high-quality pellet such as Sluxx HP, also has the added benefit of anti-moulding protection and improved durability in wet weather, which is vital for the unpredictable weather that autumn typically brings.”

Contrary to popular perception, there is no evidence that cover crops can increase slug pressure over the winter leading to problems with spring crops later, according to recent trials undertaken by Natural England.

The field-scale trials, carried out in Oxfordshire and Hampshire, showed that cover crops such as mustard, winter vetch and forage rye, did not significantly increase slug populations compared to wheat stubble.

Multi-species mix

Natural England catchment sensitive farming officer Andrew Russell said growers participating in the trials were encouraged to grow multi-species mixes of cover crops in the autumn to reduce nitrogen leeching from fields.

Five to six plots per location were planted with cover crops, and a field of wheat stubble was used as a control. Mats baited with layers mash were placed in each plot, and slug numbers were monitored on a weekly basis.

“We didn’t want to incidentally increase the need for slug pellets, by encouraging the use of cover crops. As this could potentially increase metaldehyde usage and have an adverse effect on the positive work we’re doing to protect water quality.

“We monitored slug pressure in the crops, and found little difference in pest pressure between the cover crop plots and the control stubble field. We also discovered that slugs had aversions to particular crops, such as mustard.

“Increased nitrogen capture levels were also seen in the fields with cover crops, with nitrogen capture ranging from 21 to 62 kgN/ha across the sites.”

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