Wednesday, 10 December 2014

CFE help farmers to cover up properly this winter!

Big audiences have been turning up to CFE cover crop trial events - here farmers talking about the role that "Vetches" might play. 
The Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) now has a coordinator in every county and organises topical training events for farmers, bringing in experts to up-date growers with the latest data. Go to: for more information.

I coordinate Hampshire for the Campaign and recently joined forces with my CFE colleague from Bucks, Berks and Oxon (BBO) Tim Clarke, who organised an excellent series of cover crop demonstrations across the South East, including one in Hampshire.

Farmers have really started to turn their attention to the overall condition and well-being of the soil that they farm – the “shop-floor” where all the production takes place if you like. I think that for far too long many have just relied on artificial inputs, whether that be fertiliser or pesticides – in the belief that all can be supplied out of a can. In the process, many of us have taken our eye off perhaps the most important thing on the farm – the soil. 

Ask farmers what the organic matter content of their soils is currently and many do not know. Ask when they last dug a hole in one of their fields to look at the structure of the soil and only a minority will raise their hand. Ask how many have begun to get a serious problem with Blackgrass, despite spending a small fortune on herbicides in an attempt to control it and most will raise their hands.

But change is afoot if the attendance at these Cover Crop Workshops was anything to go by!  The Hampshire CFE event for instance, had well over 50 attendees and there was a lot of debate and questioning of the experts. Farmers were clearly hungry for information.

Growers are realising that Blackgrass in particular, is becoming increasingly resistant to the sprays that they are applying and that they now need to start to introduce “spring” cropping into the rotation. Blackgrass is largely (but not entirely) autumn germinating, so this allows them to destroy most of the weed growth before they plant a spring crop.

Also, farmers now have to have part of the farm put over to “Ecological Focus Areas” under the Government’s “Greening” policy. One of the things that Growers can do towards this “Greening” is to grow these cover crops over winter.

The growth from certain cover crops can help to smother out Blackgrass, protect soils from erosion during heavy rainfall and importantly too, really improve soil structure and organic matter content – so this certainly starts to look like a no-brainer!

What is still needed however, is a better understanding of what each type of cover crop offers. Some produce lots of leaf and grow rapidly once they are sown in the late summer, others do most of their growing underground, producing long tap roots which can help with soil structure, while others are more suited to a slower growth, perhaps over a whole year or more. 

I genuinely believe that the CFE is providing a wonderful resource to local farmers, by listening to what they are telling us that they need and then providing the practical facts and figures that they require, so as to help them improve their farms for both profitability and the environment.

The CFE has seen 780 people attending their events this autumn – and that is just in the South East of England, while the total number rockets to a much higher figure if you count many other events run in conjunction with partner organisations such as the NFU or CLA. There is obviously a real hunger for information.

I genuinely think that if I ask the same questions about soils again in five years’ time, nearly all farmers will raise their hands and that will undoubtedly have helped to improve soil, water and biodiversity on farms!   

How about that for a tap root! Tillage radish after only 3 months or so of growth!

No comments:

Post a Comment