New techniques could bring yield dividends

Farmers are shown strip-till and precision planting equipment at the Agrovista open day at Morley Fa

Farmers are shown strip-till and precision planting equipment at the Agrovista open day at Morley Farms. - Credit: Submitted

The combined benefits which cover crops, minimal tillage and companion planting strategies could bring to commercial yields were demonstrated at a mid-Norfolk farm.

About 30 farmers attended the open day at Morley Farms, near Wymondham, organised in conjunction with agronomy, crop protection and precision farming experts from Agrovista.

The farm has previously trialled black oat and vetch mixes to improve soil structure and nutrient retention after cereal crops. But this year, after that cover crop was destroyed in December and February, a targeted strip-till cultivation method was employed for the following sugar beet crop, drilled in April.

Farm manager David Jones said the early signs were good, but the full effectiveness of the combined system would only be known when the beet was harvested.

'These are lots of things we have talked about before, but not altogether,' he said. 'You can read about what might be possible and what people in other parts of the world, but we thought: 'Let's see if it works here'. That remains to be seen, but we won't know unless we try it.'

Mark Hemmant, technical manager for Agrovista, also told farmers that using berseem clover as a companion plant for oilseed rape could deliver up to 1t/ha of extra yield in the commercial crop.

Companion planting involves sowing two different crops at the same time, so one can thrive due to the beneficial effects of the other. In the case of oilseed rape, berseem clover can promote better rooting and reduce weed pressure before being killed off by winter frosts, returning nutrients to the soil so the commercial oilseed rape can flourish.

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'When we first looked at companion plants several years ago, a lot of it was about mopping up nutrients which would otherwise be lost, for the benefit of the oilseed rape crop in the spring,' said Mr Hemmant. 'But what we have noticed over the years is they can have a big impact on the improvement of the crop establishment and some of that is about improving soil structure.

'The most striking thing is that conceptually I am planting something in my rape, so why does it not act like a weed? But it is actually benefiting the crop because it has bigger roots, which has a significant impact on soil structure and the subsequent growth of oilseed rape.

'The best benefits are on the more challenging soils. At Morley on the lighter soils we have been getting 0.25 to 0.5t/ha, but elsewhere on the heavier soils we have been getting 0.5 to 1t/ha, by improving the reliability of oilseed rape crop establishment.'

Visitors to the farm were also shown Cultivating Solutions' RapidLift machine, paired with a Vaderstad Tempo seed drill – the one-pass combination which carried out the strip-till work and precision drilling at Morley.

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