Understanding cover crops at the farm-scale - a method of sustainable intensification?
Cover crops are typically grown over the autumn/winter ensuring green cover throughout the year. They can improve soil structure, reduce erosion, increase soil organic matter, potentially provide black-grass control and increase nutrient availability for future crops. Over the last 3 years, how different cover crops affect soil quality has been investigated. Cover crops have been found to have significant effects on soil structure and weed biomass, in addition to increases in following crop yields. Weeds were found to have significantly lower biomass in some cover crops in comparison to the controls, and this persisted in the following spring oat crop, indicating a continued weed suppressive effect. The improvements in soil conditions were reflected in increased following crop vigour. Overall, the results indicate that cover crops have the potential to provide both productivity and environmental benefits in relation to soil health and crop yields– a win-win for sustainable intensification.