Saturday, March 28, 2020

How green manure crop can restore uncropped headlands

February 28, 2020 by  
Filed under Crops

Sowing green manure seed mix on uncropped arable headlands could help restore soil structure and fertility this spring.

Cover crops could provide a much-needed boost for headlands left undrilled where growers just managed to muddle in landwork last autumn. As well as helping to repair soils, they will also play an important role as an ecological asset.

Recent research shows that products such as Syngenta’s Operation Pollinator green headland mix help to improve soils and to capture nutrients for following crops when grown alongside potato and vegetable fields.

“The techniques involved could now prove equally applicable for arable fields where headlands have been left, or are unviable after the wet winter,” says Syngenta sustainable farming manager Belinda Bailey.

“Growers’ priority will clearly be on establishing their crops in the spring, but once completed there will still likely be time after to sow a fast growing green headland mix, at relatively low cost.”

Nutrient capture

Cover crop mixes including plants with deep rooting systems can help to reduce field soil losses, capture nutrients and support soil structure while reducing moisture to help restore the land ready for autumn sowing, adds Ms Bailey.

The Green Headland Mix was developed in partnership with seed specialist Kings Crops. It predominantly contains oil radish and phacelia, along with common vetch, buckwheat and berseem clover.

The easy to establish seed mix can be planted from late April through to June, once the soil has dried out and warmed up sufficiently to encourage a quick establishment. It is best shallow drilled at 15mm, or broadcast and rolled in, at a seed rate of 20 kg/ha.

Other benefits

An application of up to 30 kg/N/ha could prove beneficial to getting the Green Headland mix off to a good start. It is seen is the best option for short-term establishment of around three months, resulting in significant biomass and rooting activity..

“The green manure would be destroyed prior to cereal harvest, before stems lignify or plants set seed,” suggests Richard Barnes of Kings Crops. “It will also help protect soils from tractors and sprayers turning during fieldwork and harvest.”

Trials have shown that a Green Headland mix can typically create up to 6.8 tonnes of biomass dry matter per hectare to enrich soils, as well as having the potential to capture around 100 kg/ha of N along with other nutrients for the following crop.

For headlands to remain growing for more than three months, farmers may consider a legume mix, including clovers, which will fix nitrogen and increase fertility. The flowering mix can also produce an extremely valuable supply of pollen and nectar for bees and pollinating insects.

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