Over the last three years, Guy Leonard has worked closely with his local Frontier agronomist, Stuart Campbell and Kings’ northern regional green cover specialist, Clive Wood to identify the most effective techniques to improve overall soil health.
Mr Leonard has taken a holistic approach to improving the farm’s soil health and is keen to complement existing practices with cultural techniques. Combining his own local knowledge with national expertise from Kings and Frontier has enabled the team to identify an effective range of green cover mixtures that are now bringing great benefits to the soil structure and its overall health. A range of crops including oats and rye, phacelia, berseem clover and radishes have been incorporated in mixtures to improve soil organic matter and soil biota as well as catching spare nitrogen from previous plantings.
Mr Leonard has taken a keen interest in the project from the start and has been very active in terms of the development of mixtures to suit his farm. Being able to balance logistical pressures in the farm workload to drill as early as possible during a busy autumn has proved beneficial, since the longer the crop has to grow, the greater the root structure and associated soil improvement and nutrient capture. Seed rates have been carefully formulated to ensure that each species has the chance to express itself fully and that there is not too much competition between them.
As well as increased soil health and organic matter, Mr Leonard has observed notable benefits to farmland wildlife both above and below ground. With an obvious rise in farmland bird and mammal species added to the all important increase in earthworm numbers, the project to improve soils on the farm is having far reaching benefits.
With the need to establish spring crops it has been important to select varieties with deep, expansive root systems to improve soil structure and retain key nutrients and trace elements in preparation for the following crop.
In addition, the opportunity has been taken to address ongoing weed problems and particularly black-grass. Competition from the sown green cover crops has helped to reduce the pressure from a weed species that was becoming problematic, especially as chemical opportunities become limited in their efficacy.
The cover crops are enabling development of a sustainable rotation on the farm with improved soil health. The farm can now also consider savings in cultivation costs and changes to drilling techniques with more profitable farming.