10 October 2023
A field-scale trial in Wales involving growing different cover crops under winter brassicas could help farmers identify which types best protect soils from run-off.
Winter brassica crops are an increasingly popular option for livestock producers seeking to reduce production costs as grazing in situ provides a cheaper source of winter feed than other forage by relieving pressure on housing and cutting labour and bedding costs.
However, leaving soils bare and exposed to wind and rain after grazing can result in loss of topsoil, which is detrimental to soil nutrition and water quality.
Cover crops are a way of anchoring soils therefore a trial is being established on a livestock farm in Gwynedd to evaluate the most suitable crop to under sow in forage rape and stubble turnips.
Bryn Hughes and Sarah Carr were awarded funding from the Farming Connect ‘Try Out Fund’ to conduct the trial on their farmland at Sylfaen, Barmouth, where they farm sheep and beef.
“The project will evaluate different seed mixes for under sowing brassicas and assess their effectiveness in terms of ground cover, run off reduction, feed production and animal performance,’’ Sarah explains.
Five one hectare plots were established in August, all with forage rape and stubble turnips as the grazing crop but grown in combination with different cover crops.
These will include a ground cover mix of timothy, perennial ryegrass, clovers and vetch, a second mix of cocksfoot, intermediate diploid, festulolium and meadow fescue, and a third plot growing a combination of both.
There will also be one control plot with no cover crop and another with an Italian tetraploid.
The plots will be grazed by sheep this winter.
As well as scoring livestock performance, the status of soils will be monitored and an evaluation made to establish the most suitable seed mix for under sowing.
Bryn and Sarah, who only bought Sylfaen last year after relocating from a farm in Monmouthshire, are grateful to the Farming Connect Try Our Fund for funding this project and allowing the opportunity to trial these crops on their new land.
Other individuals and groups of up to four farmers and growers have also been awarded funding to allow them to try-out ideas and bring them to life including growing grass with basalt rock dust and growing lucerne to increase the resilience of lamb finishing systems to summer drought.