Establishing summer cover crops before winter cereals in low tillage systems on sandy soils

DiverIMPACTS Practice Abstract

Resource explained

Periods of no plant cover between cash crops increase the risk of nitrogen (N) leaching, weed development and soil erosion, particularly on sandy soils where these effects can cause significant environmental and economic problems, alongside a lack of soil organic matter availability which results in a lack of nutrition for soil life and degradation of soil quality. Implementing fast growing cover crops is recommended to avoid soil erosion and guarantee the nutrition to soil life. This abstract, created as part of the DiverIMPACTS (Diversification through Rotation, Inter-cropping, Multiple Cropping, Promoted with Actors and value-Chains towards Sustainability) project, and derived from several German long and short-term field trials, outlines some of the benefits that can be attained and gives some practical recommendations for establishing summer cover crops, grouped under the headings of seedbed preparation, preferable cover crop mixture and cover crop management.

Findings & recommendations

  • Fast growing cover crops can help stabilise cash crop yields by adding organic matter to the soil, increasing soil water infiltration. Cover crops also protect the soil from direct sun radiation, reducing surface temperatures.
  • Left over N from the previous crop can be secured in different rooting zones by using crop mixtures with diverse rooting systems.
  • To save important time for growth, sow cover crops as soon as possible after harvesting the previous main crop – remaining soil humidity can increase seedling emergence of the cover crop, allowing for faster growth.
  • Cover crops should ideally be sown directly into a harvested field using sowing machines with disc (or double-disc) openers, harrow-openers and sufficient tools to close the slot.
  • Residues of a previous crop may hinder sowing. If residues cannot be removed, mowing at a higher height and limiting crossing harvest direction while driving on the field before sowing can reduce the amount of residues laying across future seed-slots.
  • Fast growing cover crops such as buckwheat and niger seed produce the most biomass in the given time and can outgrow volunteer cereals and weeds. High biomass production guarantees the best carbon sequestration.
  • Lower soil temperatures and higher humidity under cover crops provide optimal conditions for soil life after harvesting the main crop.
  • To increase the impact of cover crops, make sure you combine species with different rooting systems.
  • It is recommended to sow your cash crop directly into the cover crop. If this is not possible, mechanical destruction of the cover crop by using a roller or mulcher should be done before sowing the cash crop.
  • Ideal timing for destruction of cover crops is during the flowering period of most plants in the mixture.

The overall goal of the DiverIMPACTS project is to achieve the full potential of diversification of cropping systems for improved productivity, delivery of ecosystem services and resource-efficient and sustainable value chains. View the project website and other practice abstracts here.

Summary provided by:

Janie Caldbeck

Related articles

Cover crops in a no-tillage system

One of the AHDB ‘Farmer Experience’ profiles providing insights into how and why Jake Freestone of Overbury Farms uses cover crops.  

Film: Three farmers come together to research no till and cover crops

One of a series of Innovative Farmers films shining a light on a field lab - this one focuses on no till and cover crop...

Opportunities for cover crops in conventional arable rotations

An introduction to the potential environmental and agronomic benefits of cover crops in arable systems.

Cover crops help to reduce diffuse water pollution

An update from research undertaken as part of the Demonstration Test Catchments research platform established to investigate the extent by which on-farm mitigation measures can...

Diversification of silage maize cultivation by using winter cover crops enabled by ultra-early maize varieties

Abstract created as part of the DiverIMPACTS project based on a long-term Dutch field trial, outlining practical recommendations, advantages, and challenges of combining winter cover...

Virtual Field Day: Cover crops, living mulch and leys @ Cereals LIVE 2020

Recording of a virtual event held as part of Cereals LIVE 2020 - a collaboration between Agricology, CFE and the NIAB team that came in part...
To top