Nurturing soil for intensive cropping
"We need to remember to treat soil as a living system, nurturing that system is especially important for intensive cropping; we must give back not just take from the soil."
Steve Nickells of Valefresco gives us his thoughts on the GREATsoils field trial in their intensive protected baby-leaf cropping system.
The way I see it, soil health needs to be our starting point. The ever diminishing spectrum of conventional pesticides has highlighted the need to take a holistic approach to crop health and soil health.
In our business, whilst we recognise the need to increase soil organic matter, doing so is not straight forward. Because we grow ready to eat crops we are unable to use manure, and due to customer requirements even the use of PAS100 compost would require an impractical buffer period.
By taking part in the GREATsoils field trial we’re hoping to learn the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating short term cover crops in intensive protected baby-leaf cropping. We want to find the best cover crop type that both fits in with our cropping regime and is most beneficial, without serious harmful effects such as posing an allergen risk, allelopathy effect, or becoming a weed or trash problem in subsequent crops.
So far we have tried small plots of buckwheat and phacelia. Of the two types tried so far, phacelia appears to be the most promising, giving the largest green bulk and having more vigour especially during the colder months.
We have been increasing our use of cover crops over the last few years for our outdoor cropping. For protected cropping more trials are needed as very little work seems to have been done with cover crops in this area, so doing our own small trials is a necessity prior to potentially rolling it out large scale. I’m particularly interested in using a cocktail of cover crop types involving perhaps a mixture of cereals, brassicas and legumes, however this may be more appropriate for outdoor cropping. It’s still early days to draw any conclusions and we are continuing with our trials.
We need to remember to treat soil as a living system, nurturing that system is especially important for intensive cropping; we must give back not just take from the soil.
The Growing Resilient Efficient and Thriving GREATsoils is being delivered in partnership by the Soil Association, Organic Research Centre and Earthcare Technical Ltd. The project is part of the GREATsoils programme funded by AHDB.