Farmers nationwide can now benefit from the UK’s most comprehensive and first independent guide to selecting, establishing and terminating cover crops, co-designed by farmers with the help of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Farmer Scientist Network.
As a free and easy-to-use online tool, the Cover Crops Guide – www.covercropsguide.co.uk – is scientifically supported to give farmers the most up-to-date information and advice on cover crop varieties and their management.
Cover crops are non-cash crops that add soil organic matter and nutrients, reduce soil erosion and leaching, promote moisture management, benefit biodiversity and mitigate pest and disease outbreaks, when planted between two cash crops.
This in turn can boost harvests, make cost savings for the farm, and deliver for the wider environment, helping growers to qualify for additional revenue under the Government’s new agri-environment schemes.
How the Cover Crops Guide works
Using the Guide’s interactive plant species selection tool, growers can assess the suitability of different brassica, legume, cereal and other varieties of cover crops.
Each species is profiled for its winter hardiness, root depth, grazing potential and nitrogen fixing and storing qualities.
Details of each species’ sowing period, depth and rate, seed size and insect benefits are provided, as well as growth rate, reliability and soil benefits.
Useful details on species establishment and termination help farmers on their cover cropping journey, case studies of farmers who have trialled and settled on established cover crops rotations are available, and there are recommended resources for further information.
Ultimately, the Cover Crops Guide aims to provide farmers with free access to the most comprehensive information for successful adoption of cover cropping on UK farms, making this more achievable for more farmers at a crucial time for agriculture and the environment.
Culmination of months of work lead by farmers
Award-winning Yorkshire farmer Angus Gowthorpe (pictured), an early adopter of regenerative agriculture techniques, who has led the project thanks to funding from Innovate UK said:
This new Guide has been developed with input from a dedicated steering group of farmers and soil experts, brought together by the Farmer Scientist Network at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society; individuals with years of on-farm experience of what works and what doesn’t in different soils and climatic conditions.
What makes this a particularly comprehensive resource, and the first of its kind in the UK, is the intelligence that has been contributed by the wider farming community.
It also draws on carefully curated literature and scientific research on cover crops.
We hope this tool proves to be useful for anyone who is looking to get started in cover cropping, or who wants to finetune their species mixes to maximise benefits to their soils, wherever they are in the UK.
Angus, who runs a 500-acre mixed farming enterprise near York, is a winner of Farmers Weekly’s Environmental Champion of the Year.
With support from the Farmer Scientist Network, Angus got the project off the ground by securing funds through the Farming Innovation Programme, delivered by InnovateUK, the UK’s innovation agency, in collaboration with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as part of the Research Starter Competition.
The competition supports farmgate ideas to solve major problems facing farming business on themes of sustainability, productivity, and resilience.
Supporting innovative approaches to farming
Dr Dave George (pictured), Chair of the Farmer Scientist Network at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and Precision Agronomist at Newcastle University said:
There is so much innovative work going on at grassroots level in British agriculture to farm smarter and more efficiently at a time when financial support for the industry is being increasingly linked to environmental gains.
Part of this story is the use of cover crops, which have clear tangible benefits to soil health.
Poor decisions at any stage of the process, from seed selection to termination, can result in failed crops, wasted time, financial loss and missed opportunities.
That’s what makes the Cover Crops Guide a game-changer: it gives farmers an informed resource to confidently make decisions about which cover crops to plant where and when, and how to manage them.
The Guide has been delivered in collaboration with key partners, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, Frontier Ltd/Kings Crops, Newcastle University and PhD Researcher David Purdy of David Purdy Soils.
AHDB (the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board) supported the development of the Guide by providing access to evidence-based information.
AHDB will continue to curate independent cover crop guidance and build on the foundations laid by the Cover Crops Guide.
Isobel Eames (pictured), Knowledge Exchange Manager for AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds said:
We are proud to support this initiative and we will explore ways to build on its legacy.
Appropriate species selection is essential for farmers to unlock the full benefits of cover crops.
As understanding builds, guidance must move with it.
We look forward to being at the forefront of the next phase of the Cover Crops Guide’s development.