True Cost of Cover Cropping

Discussion in 'Direct Drilling General Discussion' started by Will7, Feb 9, 2017.

  1. Colin

    Colin Member

    I think the most important thing is to do SOMETHING, in a plough based system, leaving bare ground ploughed up overwinter is DAFT, especially when a lot of the ground round here doesn't need frost. My fields had covers sown within 2 weeks of harvest, are being ploughed just now and weather permitting will be drilled within a fortnight.
    As for cost I'm spending too much on seed and drilling, going to try broadcasting then light cultivating with a lemken karat that we have next summer. Any cc drilled without moving soil has really struggled but maybe a bit of N would sort that.
    Louis Mc and Brisel like this.
  2. Spud

    Spud Member

    We've been experimenting with covers since 2010.

    A few lessons learned:
    A scratch over a winter barley stubble after the bales are cleared, left to green up, and sprayed off with glyphosate pre drilling cover around 20th August is a far better idea here than working and sowing cover without stale seedbed in the first few days of august. All this does is increase cost (graminicide) and result in a far too forward cover crop that needs flailing in late October cos its going to seed.
    Sowing covers after 15th Sept is mostly a waste of time.
    Expensive seed mixes are very difficult to quantify.
    Keep it cheap!

    This years, pre spud land (mostly after wheat) Scratch over if time with 5m Dynadrive (£3/ac)
    Glyphosate to kill volunteers inc application £3/ac
    Establishment inc rolling about 50% £12/ac
    Seed 25kg oats /ac from the cleaner next to the dryer free really, but lets say at feed price of £130/t, theyre worth £3.25/ac
    Mustard @ £2kg/ha (0.8kg/ha) = a quid an acre.

    Total £22/ac. (ignore the glyphosate dessication, cos it would be done anyway)

    We did experiment a bit (quite a lot over the years really)with additions to the above such as vetch (dies too easily) Berseem clover (dies even easier than vetch) or tillage radish (quite encouraging, just not the mix on blackgrass land, very good pre beet and spuds)

    Pre spring oats (drilled too late really due to being a man down at harvest) we've tried linseed and mustard - two different fields, two establishment methods. Lets say drainage is important and establishment can be too simplified!

    One field was reduced herbicide spring barley (thank heaven pinoxedin is allowed, else wild oats and canary grass would take over!) followed by over wintered stubble. Due to light barley this time, the field is almost wall to wall volunteer barley, its suprising what good that has done really.

    Thats the cost. The value? In the spuds, we now try to cultivate the sprayed off cover pre plough (in some cases, where appropriate, we wont plough) before ridging up with a tiller (if necessary). The land is drier, and breaks up much more readily, resulting in quicker work, lower costs and less smearing. All good. By keeping the majority of the physical organic material in the finished ridge (rather than buried under it as it would be without the pre plough cultivation), slumping, capping and ridge cracking is reduced, so greening of tubers is less, and marketable yield is higher. Even better!

    On the combinables? This is on the heavier side of the farm, and the cover sits between a second wheat and spring oats. It allows a further attack at black grass, (we deliberatly keep seed rates low to allow weeds to grow in the cc) The oats are drilled with the minimum disturbance possible in spring, to minimise more bg growing.

    I'd struggle to justify the time and cost of a cover between two winter crops.
    Mursal and average farmer like this.
  3. Toad

    Toad New Member

    This is our first season experimenting with cover crops and spring crops at home
    Following wheat harvested 2016 we used a friends grass seeding harrow to drill 60% blackoat and 40% vetch (£1.68/Kg) following a pass with an X-press. This has worked really well, with great establishment

    This year to reduce costs of establishment we have purchased 1.5t of blackoats (77p/kg) which we plan to broadcast then lightly cultivate in using the xpress.

    I also have a research project where I am comparing two cover crop mixes to a control of stubble between wheat and maize. The effect of these mixes on the soil I am yet to test (sampling likely to be end of April). These mixes were direct drilled with a Horsch Sprinter ST.
    Mix 1: black oats 60%, Radish 35%, mustard 10% - £42/Ha
    Mix 2: forage rye 60%, radish 10%, berseem clover 10% -£36/Ha

    The rye established poorly most likely due to lack of moisture and the berseem clover established poorly too either due to flea beetle damage or it was sown too deep with the rest of the species.

    To support my trial work I also have a soil management survey in circulation and I would very much appreciate your responses before it closes Sunday 12th March at midnight. The survey asks questions on crop establishment, cover crop management and soil health practices. I hope to collate all this information to gain a better understanding on the UK's soil management practices and it will also help inform research.
    There is also a prize draw for 2x Groundswell Ag 2017 event tickets.
    The link can be found at

    Last edited: Mar 8, 2017
    Great In Grass likes this.
  4. Great In Grass

    When was it drilled? Maybe soil temp tailed off to quickly before a good germ took place although like all clovers it doesn't like being sown too deep as you say.
  5. Toad

    Toad New Member

    It was drilled 26th August according to on farm weather station the following 3 weeks there was an average soil temp of 17c and no lower than 13c. However only 9mm of rain fell in the following 3 weeks after establishment but there was good germination from all other cover crop species with a small seed.
  6. Great In Grass

    Perhaps it was depth of drilling as Berseem clover has excellent early vigor which is one reason it suits a cover crop and is also quite tolerant to drought. Did you notice any Flea Beetle?
  7. Flintstone

    Flintstone Member

    Cover crops, in my opinion, are disproportionally expensive for the benefits they create, and the downsides seem to be obliviously ignored. They're sexy and fashionable at the moment, but like any boy band, they will go out of favour very quickly when the next fad comes along.
    willy and Flat 10 like this.
  8. Tractor Boy

    Tractor Boy Member

    Unless they are forced upon everyone.
    Brisel likes this.
  9. Flintstone

    Flintstone Member

    Yes, fair point.
    Tractor Boy likes this.
  10. mikep

    mikep Member

    There was a graph shown somewhere with a sharp rise to a peak then a sharp fall off to a resting place about a third of the way down. It was entitled something like the graph of expectations for cover crops. You are right that there is definitely an air of righteousness about them and if they work fine but if not don't bother.
    I have a special.blackgrass willow herb mix that i use absolutely free and no planting but it doesn't get too tall. On my land catch crops ( as that is what they should be called if they provide any benefit) would mean planting spring crops in June.
    Brisel likes this.
  11. D14

    D14 Member

    That cost is half your BPS figure per acre. You must be mad.
    Flintstone likes this.
  12. mikep

    mikep Member

    Whether mad or not you make a good point i.e. has everyone who uses cover crops thought it out financially? What about a lower spend on crop protection in the previous crop and letting the weeds grow, win win as long as not running to seed.
    In five years it will all fads, for those who get a real benefit fine for the rest (majority?) forget and sign up to the next one.
    Rainmaker likes this.
  13. Brisel

    Brisel Member

    How do you stop weeds running to seed without killing them? Non lethal herbicide doses is just asking for resistance.
  14. Will7

    Will7 Member

    Blimey, I thought I was getting better; 4 years ago I was spending my entire BPS on blackgrass control!!

    Your statement has merit, hence I started the thread. In mitigation my previous cultivation regime used to cost £80-110/ha (solo, 1-2 cultipress) before drilling depending on the season and I was loused out with blackgrass whilst burning a lot of diesel sat on a tractor seat every hour of the day. I have a lot more soil life now, but some wheat after poor spring beans (which were drilled wet and then stayed wet all summer) looks stressed and probably needs something run through it to reset it this autumn.
  15. mikep

    mikep Member

    I usually find the combine does a good job at at slowing existing weeds down. Failing that topping is a lot cheaper than cover crops. Overuse of herbicides and aiming for 100% weed free fields is what got us into this mess in the first place.
    Farmer Roy likes this.
  16. Brisel

    Brisel Member

    Are you talking about weeds as a cover crop or allowing weeds into the cash crop? Topping is less of an option!
  17. mikep

    mikep Member

    Both they follow each other not rampant weeds but the less competitive ones that don't steal much yield. I find that i have quite a few in the bottom of the crop and as I don't pre harvest spray let them run on. As a matter of fact i get paid to do it for so VERY cheap cover.
    Farmer Roy likes this.
  18. Brisel

    Brisel Member

    What herbicides do you use? The big guns like Atlantis or Broadway Star tend to take everything else out too if applied in the spring. Fumitory seems to escape Broadway Star. I have no issue with what you are suggesting but there are so many weeds that can cause many problems if allowed to build into bigger numbers. I have ignored grounsel, speedwells, fumitory & cranesbill for years and now I have to get on top of them with extra chemistry. I take a zero tolerance to cleavers, poppies, meadowgrass, blackgrass, bromes and wild oats.
  19. mikep

    mikep Member

    You are lucky to be able to have a zero tolerance to BG and meadow grass as in most places that is a forlorn wish as it is not possible. I lengthened my rotation and shut my eyes to small numbers of weeds, i don't use SUs for broadleaf weeds except as collateral damage from Atlantis. A few bromes or BG? fine crawler will keep a lid on that or a dim/fop (depends) . A few cleavers in linseed? So what next year we can hit them with starane. Mcpa is wonderful as are other hormones. I have found that the 100% original efficacy of SUs mean they very soon lose worth.
    Zero tolerance is a short route to resistance and a little more tolerance of weeds may be a longer term proposition.
    Why are we trying to put a square peg in a round hole? Annual monocultures are really a biological oxymoron from any long term picture as the competition from weeds and disease will win.
    Time to design a crop for the new reality rather than keep up the blind alley of yield is everything.
    Back to topic cover crops have their place but i think anyone spending any real money on short term covers is maybe getting carried away by the hype.
  20. keith armitage

    keith armitage New Member

    Nick just wondering if you save the seed or buy it?
    Do you think the vetch is fixing any N?
    What do you use to sow it?

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