Cover crops at our spring barley trials site

At McCreath Simpson & Prentice, we’re doing our utmost to operate more sustainably in everything that we do, whether that be on-site at our processing plants or company farm, or in the advice and services we can offer our customers, such as precision farming tool Skippy Scout.

With that in mind, we’ve drilled our spring barley variety trials site at Beal Farm in Northumberland slightly differently this year, with the aim of improving soil health and, subsequently, reducing nitrogen usage.

To do this, over the winter, we sowed a cover crop. Cover crops have been proven to help soil structure and soil biology, improving the fertility of the soil to reduce the reliance on nitrogen and nitrogen top-ups. This is especially topical at the moment given the market situation regarding fertiliser.

We conducted some soil analysis and did various other tests, while monitoring the cover crops throughout the winter. Prior to drilling the spring barley trials, we then killed the cover crops off.

The field was then cultivated which, again, was a saving instead of the normal ploughing and cultivation system. It was cultivated with a mixi press, which helped to compact all the trash down into the seed bed.

So, when the trials were drilled on Monday, March 28, we only applied 70kg of nitrogen, which is a lot less than what we’d normally use. We’re relying on the nitrogen to have come from the cover crops, with the expectation that it has improved our soil biology.

That nitrogen was applied at the same time as drilling, while we’ve also put a pre-emergence spray on to reduce the number of weeds coming through.  This field has been in spring barley for quite a long time so has quite a large weed burden, with annual meadow grass a particular issue.

As a result, the pre-emergence spray has been applied to counter that and we’re hoping that we won’t need to do anymore top-ups on it.

The trials were drilled in good conditions to about 4cm depth, which is perfect. Soil temperatures at aren’t brilliant at the moment, ranging from five to six degrees, but a bit of warmth and we’ll expect the seeds to germinate and move on fairly quickly.

We’ve got 16 varieties in total at the spring barley trials this year, ranging from distilling, brewing and dual-purpose varieties.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel HERE to follow the progress of the crops throughout the season.