- Soil Association
- Our Work In Scotland
- Scotland farming programmes
- Field Labs
- Plant teams field lab
- First Plant Teams meeting Oct 23 2018
First Plant Teams meeting Oct 23 2018
Plant Teams Field Lab event, 23rd October 2018, Leven
We heard about two sister research projects in Scotland that are looking at intercropping – DIVERSify (The James Hutton Institute) and ReMIX (SRUC).
Ali Karley (JHI) explained why farmers might want to consider Plant Teams (presentation here): "Intercropping is the practice of cropping two or more crops in close proximity. Intercropping takes many forms and exploits the outcomes of beneficial interactions between diverse crop types. Often the approach combines legumes and non-legumes (e.g. cereals). A key aim of intercropping is to achieve yields greater than the monocrop, and with fewer inputs."
Through stakeholder workshops in 11 countries DIVERSify have identified 130 Plant Team combos, mostly cereals/legumes. They also identified some of the key barriers to uptake by farmers being – harvest complexity, cost, lack of advice/support, practical difficulties and it being hard to find information. The Field Lab hopes to address some of these issues.
Adrian Newton (JHI) talked in more detail about crop mixtures based on JHI field trials (presentation here), including components, proportions of seed, spatial arrangements in the field, what traits complement best, and how the crops interact. Interestingly the trials have shown that patchy mixtures sown in an irregular pattern worked better than homogenous seed mixtures sown uniformly.
Robin Walker (SRUC) (presentation here) talked about ReMix and what the 6 satellite farms are trialling (5 of these are in Scotland, both organic and conventional). Durie Farms is one of the participants. They all keep in touch and share info through a closed Facebook group. Mixtures being tried on 6 sites:
(1) Beans & oats (O and C); Peas, OSR & oats (C); Barley & OSR (O); Barley, strawberry clover, white clover, yellow trefoil (C).
(2) Peas & barley (O & C) – with sole pea & barley crops
(3) Peas & wheat (O)
(4) Beans & OSR (C); Oats & clover (C); Lentils & flax (C)
(5) Pea & barley (O); Pea & wheat (O), Barley & wheat (O); Barley, wheat & peas (O); Barley, wheat, peas & vetch (O) – with sole barley, wheat & pea crops
(6) Oat, pea, vetch u/s high dual purpose grass mix, chicory & plantain; Wheat, vetch, lupin (& volunteer quinoa); Oats, vetch u/s grass & white clover
Carolyn Mitchell (JHI) talked (presentation here) about what measurements they collect for DIVERSify Plant Teams trials and how they record these on a spreadsheet template. Data collected includes: BBCH Growth Stage Recording, Germination: Plant counts, Establishment/survival, Days to maturation, Grain yield, Seed weight, Seeding rate, Inputs – fertilizer/pesticide/fungicide/herbicide. She is happy to run a practical demo with participating Field Lab farmers.
Some key questions/discussion that came up involved the levels of Nitrogen from legumes – how much gets taken up by existing crop and how much carries over to following crop? JHI are doing some work on finding this out. Christine Watson (SRUC) commented that beans leave more for next crop than peas, but pea residual N available sooner than beans. Grain legumes don’t build much soil Carbon, but forage legumes do (e.g. white clover).
Discussion of harvesting complexities. Farmer Doug Christie explained that a rotary cleaner with screens would separate most crops. It’s very difficult to separate vetch and oats. Discussion also of maturation/heading dates and how to deal with this. Sometimes 2nd crop isn’t for harvest but more for weed suppression and N fixation.
Afternoon visit to Durie Farms:
We looked at Doug Christie’s recently harvested crop of oats, oilseed rape, and peas [seed pictures]. We saw a demo of his rotary cleaner and we went out to the field to see green manure cover crop (to see principles of intercropping, rooting depths, Nitrogen fixing nodules). He explained that Oilseed Rape is great scaffold for peas and barley works too.
Doug has not found yield to be as impressive as it could be in theory, but he still feels results are better than monocrop and you can get multiple benefits from a mix, e.g. reduced fert/input costs so margins better. If one crop doesn't do well you can take it out & still have another crop to harvest. We talked about seed rate, sowing methods, weeds, harvest practicalities, and separation after harvest.
Doug believes that winter cover crops are really important as a live host for mychorrhiza fungi, which would die if field left fallow over winter. He thinks it is essential to have living roots in the soil and keep it covered. Soil sticking to root is indicative of biologically active rhizosphere. Glomalin is the gunge which sticks soil particles together (& gives the nice smell).
Plant mixtures have much less disease and weed burden. Farmers commented that it would be good to get government conversion payments for this kind of system.