Matching cereal varieties to cover crops

RAGT hosted hundreds of growers, merchants and agronomists from across the country at the company’s Ickleton, Cambridgeshire trials site during June.

The work includes several new projects that aim to help growers get the best from their RAGT varieties, taking into account changing methods driven by political and economic demands.

Here’s our pick of what was on show.

Matching cereal varieties to cover crops

The effect of different cover crops on the performance of a range of winter wheats is being examined in a new multi-year trial at RAGT Seeds.

The initial objective of the cover crop/winter wheat trial is to investigate whether there is any difference in the way RAGT varieties perform when following a range of typical cover crop species commonly chosen by growers to improve soil health.

Further work will look at other potential benefits stemming from nitrogen capture and reduction in diseases and pests such as take-all and nematodes.

“The ultimate aim is to enable growers to match their RAGT wheat varieties to cover crops,” said RAGT managing director Lee Bennett.

“There are some very complex mixtures out there that contain multiple species, but what does each constituent do? We started very simply, using three straights plus couple of mixtures and a fallow, so we can pinpoint what does work and what doesn’t, and how our varieties respond.”

The cover crops were sown on 14 September, followed a month later by 14 RAGT wheat varieties, direct-drilled across the different covers. The catch crops were destroyed in the spring, giving them as long as possible to condition soils and capture nitrogen without interfering with the wheat crops’ development.

Some clear differences in crop biomass have already become apparent, said

RAGT arable product manager Tom Dummett.

“We are seeing some significant differences in green area index between varieties drilled into fallow and others drilled into catch crops, although it is too early to draw any conclusions. But when we look at cover crop performance, Phacelia appears to be standing out. We saw a doubling of wheat GAI compared with fallow and a significant increase compared with other cover crop species.

“We don’t know how or why, although Phacelia does have a very fibrous root, so it might have enabled the crop to put down roots more quickly, providing better access to nutrients.

“It will be fascinating to piece all the results together at the end of the season, including yield and quality data, to see what we might discover. So far there appears to be a distinct difference in which cover crop you use, and Phacelia looks to be a must.

“It’s a bit of a look-see at this stage and we will refine protocols as we go forward in what will be a long-term trial looking at both first and second wheats covering a range of seasons.”

Catch crops used:

  • Nematode-resistant oilseed radish

  • Phacelia

  • Ethiopian mustard

  • Biofum summer plus (nematode-resistant oilseed radish plus white, brown and Ethiopian mustard)

  • RGT Nemaredux (nematode-resistant oilseed radish, phacelia plus Trio Rocket Lettuce)

Learn more about cover crops as part of our regenerative farming program here.

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