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Dom Somers: How to plan what crops and cover crops to sow next

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Planning ahead: Don Somers on is farm at Oilgate, Co Wexford in a phacelia and rye cover crop for spring malt barley. Photo: Patrick Browne

Planning ahead: Don Somers on is farm at Oilgate, Co Wexford in a phacelia and rye cover crop for spring malt barley. Photo: Patrick Browne

Planning ahead: Don Somers on is farm at Oilgate, Co Wexford in a phacelia and rye cover crop for spring malt barley. Photo: Patrick Browne

I am changing the concave in the combine for what would appear to be an early harvest presently.

Winter barley appears as if it will be fit to harvest between July 12-15.

I have walked crops recently, inspecting them for problematic weeds such as sterile brome and canary grass.

There is an additional shed being erected for short-term grain storage, which will free up another shed for organic manure storage.

I have been giving consideration to what crops will be drilled on the farm this autumn and next spring.

There is great potential in crops of spring barley this year and I am thinking about drilling more spring barley at the expense of winter barley.

Decision should never be based on the experience of one year alone, but spring barley broadens the potential to use more organic manures on the farm while also aiding the control of problematic grass weeds.

Given the price of oilseed rape and its potential margin this season I will drill more oilseed rape.

However, I am conscious of having an appropriate break between one crop of oilseed rape and the next, while leaving the opportunity to drill some oilseed rape every year.

I am also starting to ponder what species I will use in cover-crop mixes.

Because oilseed rape is grown on the farm I will avoid any brassica species within mixes.

For earlier-drilled cover crops I will use phacelia and vetch. The phacelia is a rapid-growing high-biomass plant that will return a significant quantity of carbon to the soil and is also very efficient at absorbing soil nitrogen.

The vetch, being a legume, has the ability to fix nitrogen that will be of benefit to following crops.

Later-drilled cover crops will comprise oats, rye and phacelia. I plan to use a low rate of oats in the cover-crop mix as it can be very competitive with partner species.

Both oats and rye can establish well when drilled in late August or early September.

I have also looked at ACRES, the recently launched environmental scheme.

My initial thoughts are that the scheme is very attractive, given that I am already doing a number of measures contained in it, including minimum tillage and cover cropping.

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Other measures that I like include grass arable margins, which provide a habitat for wildlife species, protect water quality and most importantly compete with problematic grass weeds like sterile brome by preventing their regrowth and therefore seed return.

Don Somers farms at Oilgate, Co Wexford


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