In this field lab Andy Gray, a farmer in mid Devon, is keen to trial different techniques of managing a clover living mulch under his maize crop
Growing maize is often associated with soil erosion and runoff. This is partly because it is usually established using heavy cultivation, and harvested late in the year when the weather is often wetter. It is best practice to establish an overwinter cover crop to protect the bare soil after harvest, but this does not protect the soil for the rest of the year. There is often a long period when the soil is bare, especially whilst the maize is establishing, and immediately after harvest while the cover crop is germinating, leaving it open to erosion.
A perennial, clover-based cover crop, or living mulch, should:
However, maize is a very uncompetitive crop, and it is generally thought that a living mulch would reduce maize growth and therefore yield.
By trialling different methods of managing the living mulch, Andy hopes to suppress the living mulch long enough for the maize to establish, but still maintain the year-round ground cover.
The trial will last 3 years.
Year 1: Andy will undersow his maize crop with a clover cover crop at the 3-leaf stage of maize growth. Any gaps in the cover can be reseeded after maize harvest. Baseline soil carbon levels have been captured as part of a separate project
Year 2: Before maize drilling the plots will receive different treatments:
1 – heavy grazing with sheep to reduce the clover to ground level
2- herbicide treatment to knock the clover back but not kill it
3- control (no management)
The maize yield will be measured using a weigh bridge at hearvest
Years 3 & 4: repeat
At the end of the trial samples will be taken of soil organic matter and soil carbon.
The maize has now been harvested leaving the clover living mulch in the field. The living mulch is quite patchy and parts need to be reseeded.
Once the maize reached the 3-leaf stage it was undersown with the clover cover crop / living mulch.
After a difficult few weeks in terms of weather, the maize has been drilled in the trial field
Years 2 and 3
Sep / Oct 2026
Bristol / South West
As the Innovative Farmers Network Coordinator, Laura engages with farmers, scientists, industry bodies and advisors to launch on-farm trials, ensure they keep running smoothly, and to share results. With an MSc in Sustainable Rural Development, Laura trained as a land agent. She then worked as a farming advisor in Devon, particularly on projects aimed at reducing diffuse water pollution in river catchments.