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How to Implement Cover Crops

Once you’ve come round to the idea of cover crops, you’re then left with the question of how you add them to your crop rotation.

As you well know, creating a crop rotation means making significant commitments to each crop for the following years – this is not something you just throw together on a whim. Even though cover crops may not be the focal point of your farming plans, it’s still just as important to properly plan and stick to the cover crops in your rotation.

The plan might change a little as the years go by and circumstances change, however cover crops should always be included as part of your smart farming to see yield improvement and improve soil management.

The art of adding cover crops will see your profits climb as your harvest grows each year. Here’s just one example of how cover crops are incorporated into a crop rotation plan.

Adapt this plan to suit your farm’s needs: the key is to pick crops that suit your farm’s land and climate as well as meeting your financial aims.

Crop Rotation Plan

A variation on SARE’s crop rotation example, focusing on vegetables in a plan that introduces much needed nitrogen to the top soil.

Year 1

Year 1 focuses on sweetcorn as your main cash crop, followed by hairy vetch or a winter rye as a cover crop.

You’ll be needing to plant sweetcorn after the last hard frost has been and gone, leaving it to grow through seasons of milder weather. It should be all harvested by the Autumn, leaving your fields ready for the first cover crop.

For this vegetable heavy crop rotation it’s important that the nitrogen levels in the soil remain high enough to support crop growth. Hairy vetch is a great choice for locking nitrogen into the soil, however winter rye may be more suited as it can be used for cattle grazing too.

Year 2

If you opted for hairy vetch in Year 1, you’ll want to make sure that has all been removed by late May, before it goes to seed and becomes a weed problem.

Thanks to your cover crops in Year 1, you can now successfully plant squash in year 2 with your nitrogen rich soil – the variety is really up to you. Oats are a good cover crop to follow your squash as they will provide ground cover over the winter, protecting your soil from weeds and erosion, and be quick to remove in the following year.

Year 3

Tomatoes or potatoes could be a good choice this year, but bear in mind that farming crops of the nightshade variety year after year can be an invitation to disease so ensure they aren’t overworked into your plan.

Follow with a nitrogen fixing cover crop (especially important after a year of crops that will have depleted the nitrogen from your soil) such as rye or hairy vetch.

Year 4

Try some root vegetables like carrots or any other vegetable you may be suited to growing (that’s not already been mentioned in the plan) and follow with rye as a cover crop after the harvest.

Year 5

If you farm livestock and you wish to incorporate year 5 into your plan, maybe you could consider oatsred clover or buckwheat this year to help improve soil quality, give it a break from vegetables and have the opportunity to turn the field over to grazing.


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