Now is the time to establish summer cover for soil health

Farming Monthly National|May 2020

Now is the time to establish summer cover for soil health
The next few weeks are the ideal time to establish a summer cover crop mix on uncropped land requiring improvements to soil structure and health after last winter.

Short-duration summer cover crops, such as the new seed mixes available from Hutchinsons (see below), typically feature sun-loving species, such as phacelia and C4 plant Japanese reed millet, that will grow rapidly given warmer spring conditions and adequate moisture.

“Summer cover shouldn’t be sown too early as it increases the risk of some species going to seed, so early to mid- May is the ideal timing,” Lincolnshire-based agronomist Alice Cannon says.

Phacelia and white mustard are two species to watch closely to ensure they don’t go to seed, but millet can also become quite woody if left in the ground too long, which means it will take longer to break down. This can all be managed through careful choice of drilling date and termination timing, she notes.

Hutchinsons bioagriecologist Ed Brown says summer cover crop mixes should typically deliver their main soil health benefits within 8-12 weeks, after which time they can be terminated to allow a timely entry for the following crop.

He advises growers to establish summer cover properly, as they would with any spring crop. If drainage work needs to be carried out during this period, the cover should be allowed to establish first so that it carries vehicles and equipment better, avoiding further soil damage.

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May 2020