Catch & Cover Crops
Varieties Catch & Cover Crops
On the farm of Klemens, Markus and Agnes Schmeink catch crops have always been used in order to build up soil organic matter and to prevent erosion. The pilot project of the agricultural department of North-Rhine Westphalia for the water framework directive also puts a focus on efficient nitrogen usage.
SYSTEM and has provided trial fields for the last three years on which the impact of various environmental specifications and requirements in regard to nutrient removal, soil erosion, soil fertility, yield performance etc. have been investigated. In this context different catch crop mixtures have also been used. Catch crops have always been part of the Schmeinks’ crop rotation. However, before the “greening era” it has mainly been single catch crops like turnip rape and forage rye.
Here winter hard components are important
Many fields are on hillsides prone to soil erosion and also in the floodplain of the river Nethe so that besides vigorous growth winter hardiness is a decisive criteria for variety choice. Only with a winter hardy crop both erosion protection and nutrient fixation can be ensured up to drilling time of the main crop. Through the trials attention was called on the mixture viterra® UNIVERSAL winter that contains an equal amount of phacelia and westerwolds ryegrass and 10 % black oat.
Forage rye has also a save place
Water usage of the catch crop mixture is unproblematic
Due to the lack of water after drilling in 2016 the crops’ growth vigour was unsatisfactory. The crop is catching up now but in the case of an early winter the foliage density will fall short of previous years. This circumstance will not have any effect on erosion control and soil trafficability because the crop had already been dense at the end of October. However, N-fixation cannot be optimal due to the lower bio mass available.
Nonetheless, the Schmeinks don’t see the water usage of catch crops as a problem for the following maize. “The reduction in soil moisture loss through a good ground COVER by the mixture outweighs the crops’ own water usage. Even in dry years no problems have ever occurred with the following main crop. Certainly, the non-inversion cultivation SYSTEM and the better soil structure contribute accordingly. Maize is less prone to drought on unplouged land”, says Klemens Schmeink convinced. “It’s different with forage rye which needs a lot of water and therefore is not grown on light land.”
Nutrients from organic matter are especially effective
Due to intense crop observations Markus Schmeink established the following theory:
The nitrogen placement is often too early available and can be lost under unfavourable conditions. “Nitrogen fixed in organic matter is better available to the plants. Building up soil organic matter and maintaining soil humus content is also very important in intensive maize and cereal crop rotations. Nutrient supply is more efficient as fertiliser can be saved and nutrient leaching reduced.
SYSTEM has been carried out on some fields already for the second time. However, it is emphasised that undersowing is not due to greening requirements which are already fulfilled elsewhere. Undersowing was especially convincing in continuous maize and when timing is too tight for catch crops. “Too early drilling has to be avoided in any case. In contrary, there is no such thing as too late. It doesn’t look very pretty after the maize harvest but grass re-establishes quickly as soon as light and water are available”, explains Markus Schmeink. “In spring time the field is very early accessible.”
Catch crops are important to the farming SYSTEM independent of greening requirements or water conservation acts. One urgent advice given from the Schmeinks’ to anybody who is interested in catch crop mixture cultivation: “If you want take advantage of these mixtures the catch crop cultivation has to be done properly. The main crop can only profit if the catch crop is well-established resulting in an optimal N-fixation, sufficient erosion control and deep rooting. Just to do the minimum in order to comply with the greening requirements achieves nothing.”
Dr. Anke Boenisch and Klaus Schulze Kremer