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Working Through Challenges with Cover Crops in Sticky Soils

Strip-tilled crops and cover crops are taking hold on Neil White’s Scotland farm, although wet weather, compaction and pest pressure still cause plenty of challenges.

(Editor’s note: This article is being shared via Direct Driller, a conservation tillage magazine based in the United Kingdom.)

By Neil White, Greenknowe, Scotland 

2021 has seen me — after 5 years of direct drilling — drill malting spring barley into oats for the first time. I had a big volunteer oat crop due to cutting wet oats at harvest, which I left into winter. 

Every cloud has a silver lining, though, as the oats provided some winter grazing for a neighbor’s sheep. The field was then limed, snowboarded on (behind a speeding pick-up), sprayed off and finally in March, we sowed Diablo spring barley. 

I must admit the winter’s heavy rain, combined with the grazing, did result in some crusting prior to sowing. Combined with the subsequent dry weather after sowing, that played a part in slower crop emergence. So I wonder if leaving the oats and grazing them was a good choice. 

I’ve also sown spring rape into a cover crop for a neighbor. While the cover was not that thick, the root system in the top layer did cause some open slots and a folding — when the shallow roots bind the soil and cause it to lift in a block rather than break up — under the turf from the cover crop roots. My neighbor and I are a bit worried as the slug and beetle activity looks to have already decimated the crop. 

NO-TILL TAKEAWAYS

  • Seeding covers that winterkill could reduce wheel traffic and…
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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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