Auchmacoy Estate’s new mixed farm manager Eric Murray joined the green cover revolution this year and he hasn’t looked back.
So impressed by the crop’s performance, he hopes to more than double the area of green cover crops next year.
Mr Murray grows winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley and winter oilseed rape over 4,450 acres at Auchmacoy, near Ellon in Aberdeenshire.
Facing tough coastal weather and heavy clay land, he is keen to improve the soil structure to provide a better start for his crops.
Guided by Kings’ Scotland technical advisor Alan Johnson, 108 acres was sown in July with oil radish, Tillage radish and a special soil structure mix created by Kings.
“I was introduced to Alan and Kings by my Frontier contact, Mike Morrice,” said Mr Murray.
“The land here is rock hard clay and you can’t break it with anything, but we discussed the options and felt that if anything was going to grow, it was radish. We decided that if we were going to go for it, we were going to go for it big time. That’s why we sowed over 100 acres.”
With a small workforce and large acreage, Mr Murray has a short window for getting crops in the ground and early entry for winter barley is crucial.
The cover crops not only enable this, but keep nitrogen in the ground which gives the following crop a boost before winter, and puts organic matter back into the soil too. He hopes that they will also open up fallow ground for spring cropping.
Mr Murray has been impressed with the crops’ performance so far and is planning to put in another 200 acres in spring.
“Our soil is like concrete, but the crop has come up well. It germinated better than the rape did. In fact, the root system is already some six inches long after just three months’ growth,” said Mr Murray.
“We’re hoping that this approach will help to get life back into the soil; the water will be able to soak through and the beasties will come back in. In a year or two, we should have great results.”
It was recently announced that oil radish has been added to the approved list of Ecological Focus Area (EFA) crops in Scotland for 2016. With the ability to bust through compaction, improve soil structure, recycle N into the following crop and boost organic matter, the crop could be an option for many growers.
Mr Murray said: “I would have grown radish regardless, so the fact that it will fit into my EFA means it will be easier on the pocket and I’ll be able to put even more in.”
According to Mr Johnson there are other benefits to planting radish.
He said: “”With heavy clay ground and low organic matter, a selection of radishes was the ideal choice. They produce a lot of green material to put back into the ground to improve organic matter levels and the taproots will break the soil up well. As a result, Eric will see broken up compaction and improved soil health and the improvements will increase year on year. The following crop will then perform better as it will be able to pick up more moisture and nutrients, rather than having to fight through the heavy clay soil.”