Catch crops, also known as cover crops or green manure, have a role to play within regulatory requirements for green cover under the GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme) rules, but the increased interest is more about farmers’ desire to use them to improve crop productivity and soil structure.
The objective within GLAS is to establish a catch crop that will absorb nutrients and prevent nutrient leaching in the autumn/winter period. For farmers not within GLAS, when it comes to improving crop productivity, the individual species of catch crops offer many benefits, such as; reduced nutrient loss, reduced disease, pests and weeds, prevention of soil erosion, improved organic matter, improved soil structure, N fixation as well as being a potential forage source.
Catch crops are planted to reduce nutrient leaching from the soil following the main crop and are commonly sown after harvest of winter cereals. Generally, it is advised to sow catch crops as early as possible post-harvest to ensure good early growth is achieved. A later sowing date can impact hugely on production, especially when it gets into August.
Catch crops can be drilled directly into stubble or broadcast onto cultivated ground. Since all mixes contain a mixture of small and big seed, a sowing depth of 1.5cm to 3cm is recommended. Rolling is important to ensure good soil-to-seed contact and helps maintain soil moisture for germination and growth. Farmyard manure/compound fertiliser could be applied prior to cultivation/drilling to provide the growing plants basic nutrients. This will maximise growth and subsequent biomass for grazing or cover for over-wintered crops. Nutrients applied will be taken up by the growing catch crop and released upon breakdown in the spring to the following cash crop. Where sown as a greening requirement, minimal fertiliser, if any, is recommended. However, if intending to graze the catch crop, applications of nitrogen and phosphate are essential to increase yield.
When sowing catch crops it is important to remember:
- Sow as early as possible
- Ensure you select from the list of prescribed catch crops
- If you have a brassica in your arable rotation e.g. oilseed rape – do not use a catch crop mixture containing a brassica
Choosing the most suitable catch crop
As already highlighted, regardless of whether or not you are participating in the GLAS or Greening schemes, catch crops offer multiple benefits. At Germinal, we have designed a range of catch crop mixtures to comply with GLAS and Greening rules, while also bringing the multiple benefits to your soil.
Choosing the most suitable catch crop should be determined by what your objective is for growing the crop; to condition and enhance the soil or to act as a fodder crop as different species will yield differing benefits. Either way, catch crops should be sown to complement the farm rotation. For a full list of catch crop options click here. To view our Catch Crops brochure clip below. We would also encourage that you speak with a qualified agri advisor.