An original approach to sowing catch crops is being trialled by a grower in Lincolnshire as part of an Innovative Farmer’s field lab project.
Alex Jasinski, who runs a 1,000-acre farm near Grantham growing winter wheat, oilseed rape, vining peas and spring oats, has adapted a sprayer to sow the catch crops directly into his standing crop of vining peas prior to harvest.
The trial will investigate whether catch crops can deliver the same benefits for soil health as cover crops in a much shorter time frame, and researchers at Lincoln University will assess the impacts of different seed mixes on soil health, cash crop yields, water retention and weeds, compared to leaving land bare or using a standard cover crop.
Mr Jasinski said he had been direct drilling for around 10 years but because of farming the large acreage on his own, he was looking for ways of saving time. “That’s why I’m sowing the catch crop into a standing crop – so that we can get it in early enough to get it established before sowing a winter crop,” he said.
“We have added a techneat outcast spreader system to the booms of the chafer 36m sprayer to apply the catch crops.
“Catch crops deliver lots of benefits – and the more nitrogen we can hold in a catch crop the better it is for the following cash crop, the environment and local water sources too. Plus, using the sprayer is a quick, easy and cost-effective way to sow the catch crop using very little fuel.”
He added that while he was constantly trialling different techniques on the farm, it was difficult to get any scientific confirmation of results.
“I’m really looking forward to having the figures in black and white and working with the researchers to find out more about the impacts of catch crops on nitrogen, soil health and water quality. Carrying out this research on real farms – at farm scale – means we can test what works and what doesn’t in real farm conditions. I’m not the only one running this setup on a sprayer so this research will be really useful to other farmers too.”
Innovative Farmers programme manager Kate Pressland said it was often a big challenge for growers to establish catch crops.
She said: “Farmer-led research is vital to understanding the benefits of healthy soils and the goods sustainable farming can deliver.”