Catch crop establishment and benefits to soil health

In this field lab, the host farmer will trial a novel way to sow catch crops in advance of harvest, and assessing the wider benefits on soil health and yields.

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Field Lab Timeline

    6/14/2020 11:00:00 PM
  • Group virtual meeting

    Group virtual meeting
  • 6/14/2020 11:00:00 PM
  • Field ID for trial

    Field ID for trial
  • 7/14/2020 11:00:00 PM
  • Trial area marked out; baseline assessments concluded

    Trial area marked out; baseline assessments concluded
  • 7/30/2020 11:00:00 PM
  • Catch crop sown

    Catch crop sown
  • 10/14/2020 11:00:00 PM
  • Catch crop terminated

    Catch crop terminated
  • 7/14/2021 11:00:00 PM
  • Yield assessments

    Yield assessments
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

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  • Achievements

    August 2021

    Field lab findings

    A summary of the field lab and main findings/recommendations can be found in the documents section above.

    Take home messages:

    • Broadcasting/drilling a catch crop earlier into a standing cash crop was a successful method of establishment.
    • This opens up an opportunity for farmers to include catch crops and increase organic matter production between harvest and drilling.
    • Broadcasting produced more biomass and soil mineral nitrogen but this may be due to the earlier sowing date (23 days earlier than drilled)
    • The farmer found that catch cropping made it easier to direct drill the next cash crop and plans on including catch crops in his rotation going forward.
    • Catch cropping did not demonstrate measurable improvements to soil health after one season. This highlights the importance that measures for improved soil health must be done for more than one season.

    Milestone: Group virtual meeting

    February 2021

    Final soil assessments

    The researcher and coordinator are visiting the host farmer in early February to do final readings on soil mineral nitrogen. Then they will pull together all the data on soil health (VESS, earthworms, soil mineral N, teabag decomposition - biological activity), as well as the data on catch crop biomass, weeds and the yield of the following cash crop to evaluate the trials.

    Milestone: Yield assessments

    December 2020

    VESS scores

    The visual assessment of soil structure (VESS) scores do not indicate a difference between plots; VESS score was around 1 for all of them, including the bare ground plot. However, the catch crop mix did help stabilize the soil, particularly the radish in the mix.

    Milestone: Catch crop terminated

    October 2020

    Catch crop termination

    The catch crop was terminated using a herbicide, which the farmer considers necessary to make use of their direct drill/no-till system (in a no-till system there isn't the option to incorporate the catch crop in). The catch crop was then left for two weeks to die off. After this, the farmer drilled the subsequent wheat cash crop.

    Milestone: Catch crop terminated

    October 2020

    Catch crop establishment

    The farmer reported that the catch crop mix of phacelia, oil radish, linseed and buckwheat established very well. Cover was best with higher seeding rates and where seed was broadcast rather than drilled. As this was the most important question/aim for the farmer in this field lab, this is positive news for the farmer. Broadcasting with the modified sprayer allowed him to go down the tramlines to sow the catch crop and avoid ruining the standing vining pea crop, meaning he could sow 2 weeks earlier than the drilled plot, where he had to wait until the pea crop was harvested before drilling the catch crop.

    Catch crop biomass was higher in the cover crop plots than either of the catch crop plots. This is not surprising, as cover crops have a much longer growth period.

    The coordinator recently visited the plots to collect data on plant biomass. In early October, the researcher will dig up teabags planted at the time of cash crop drilling, to interrogate soil microbiology.

    Milestone: Catch crop sown

    July 2020

    Catch crop sown

    The catch crop was drilled into the standing crop of vining peas at the end of July. To do this, the host farmer added a Techneat Outcast spreader system to the booms of the chafer 36m sprayer to apply the catch crops. Baseline soil assessments include:

    1) Physical soil health: A visual evaluation of soil structure (VESS)

    2) Biological soil health: a) Earthworm counts, with ten soil pits dug per plot at 20x20x20cm; b) Teabag test using green Teabags and Rooibos teabags, which will be dug up three months later and assessed to indicate biological activity in the soil.

    3) Chemical soil health: Solvita soil tests will assess macro and micronutrients, the percentage of soil organic matter, C:N ratio and microbial biomass. The test gives a 'Soil Health Score' out of 100 for each soil sample and will be assessed again after catch crop establishment and at the end of the season.

    Additionally, the group will also look at Soil Mineral Nitrogen (SMN) levels, as evidence suggests that catch crops can provide nitrogen to the following cash crop. SMN will therefore also be tested in the following cash crop.

    Milestone: Catch crop sown

    June 2020

    Introduction to the group

    The group is comprised of one host farmer and three other arable farmers all based in Lincolnshire, as well as researchers from the University of Lincoln. It is coordinated by Rebecca Carter, catchment advisor at Anglian Water.

    The host farmer farms circa 1000 acres of arable land, growing a varied rotation of crops, including winter and spring wheat, spring oats, vining peas (for seed) OSR, fodder rape (for seed), spring linseed, forage rye (for seed) and triticale (for seed). He has practiced strip tillage for 12 years and bought a direct drill in 2018. He is currently interested in looking at how catch crops can be of benefit to the direct drilled system.

    Milestone: Group virtual meeting

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