For my HRP (honours research project)/dissertation at Harper Adams University, I carried out an investigation into the impacts that the loss of Glyphosate would have on UK agriculture. This was an obvious progression after completion of my placement coursework that focused on selecting the most suitable legume for under-sowing into a spring cereal crop. Both these projects centred around the importance of Glyphosate in current UK agriculture as well as looking into ways in which farmers and growers can become less reliant on using it.
Fortunately, this coincided with plans here at Brixworth Farming. As I returned, following completion of my degree, Ian Matt’s (Managing Director) asked me if I would like to carry out a trial on two fields (12ha) of spring barley. The plan is to establish a crop of spring barley then under-sow a legume (micro clover in this case) into the growing crop. This clover would then survive throughout the lifecycle of the spring barley and would flourish once the barley has been harvested. The following winter wheat crop would then be established into the living clover and the cycle would repeat.
The idea is that the clover will act as a barrier, shading out weeds looking to germinate and therefore reducing our use of herbicides, especially glyphosate. In addition, by using a legume such as clover for the living mulch, it should also reduce our nitrogen fertiliser inputs as the clover may apply up to 70kg of nitrogen to the soil that the cereal crop can utilise.
Ian wanted the trial to highlight what issues we may face as growers if glyphosate was withdrawn from the UK market, and we would have to look at other ways of controlling weeds without increasing highly polluting cultivation passes. By trialling two fields like this, to start with, we can note the short-term and (with any luck!) the long-term issues we come across in case we are forced to roll this control method out across a much larger area.
Further benefits of sowing cereal crops into a living mulch are that the perennial crop will retain soil moisture and soil temperature in adverse conditions. It will also help reduce the impacts of compaction and trafficking across the fields. Other benefits can be seen in the soil condition and aeration that the clover can have on the soil. As the cereal crop roots develop, they will tend to follow the roots of the clover as they will also be able to access ‘free’ nitrogen.
Finally, this will increase biodiversity and aid habitat creation. By having the clover survive for multiple years, it will provide an environment for beneficial bacteria, enzymes underground, beetles, insects and most importantly, food for pollinators.
The spring barley was sown on 8th April, and we hope to broadcast then consolidate with a roll.
Drill: Vaderstad Rapid 8m
Spring barley variety: LG Diablo
Clover variety: Berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum)
We’ll keep you updated on the progress of the trial via future blogs and across our social media platforms.