An ambitious new project launched by a Yorkshire farmer intends to help other farmers to unlock improvements to soil health at a crucial time for agriculture.
Angus, who runs a 500-acre mixed farm near York, has secured funds to develop a farmers’ guide to cover crops species selection, establishment, and termination.
He has been awarded funding through the Farming Innovation Programme, delivered by InnovateUK, with assistance from the Farmer Scientist Network, a group supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.
Cover crops are a non-cash crop that farmers are increasingly turning to, to decrease nutrient losses, improve soil health, disrupt pests and diseases, and to provide habitats for on-farm biodiversity between commercial crops.
Cover crops are now recognised as being the cornerstone for emerging ‘regenerative agriculture’ approaches within future farming policy.
Yet the use of cover crops does come with risk and uncertainty. As with any newly adopted approach to farmland management, it is not always ‘one size fits all'.
A poor decision at any stage of the process, from seed selection to termination, can result in failed crops, wasted time, financial loss and missed opportunities.
The project led by Angus aims to develop the UK’s first farmer-led and scientifically supported guide to cover crop selection, establishment and termination to provide confidence for farmers wishing to plant the right cover crops.
The approach will draw together existing resources into a ‘one-stop-shop’ web platform and will seek to incorporate a range of on-farm variables such as soil composition and regional climates to help farmers establish an appropriate approach to planting, rotating and managing the benefits of cover crops.
Angus said: “There are a great deal of questions surrounding cover crops, ranging from what should I grow, to how should I kill them and all manner in between.
"By developing this guide, we hope to provide a resource that can be easily accessed and can be a source of a great deal of information and answer many of these questions.”
Holly Jones, project manager of the Farmer-Scientist Network added: “Amid defining challenges – climate change and the need to balance environmental sustainability with productive farming – the need to advance scientific solutions has perhaps never been greater.
"We hope that the cover crops guide will be a farmer-friendly resource that informs productive regenerative farming systems for many years to come.”
The project will be delivered in collaboration the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, Frontier Ltd/Kings Crops, Newcastle University and PhD Researcher David Purdy.