Green Cover Case Study - HR Bourn & Sons
Farm Manager at HR Bourn & Sons, Andrew Harker, turned to Meehal Grint, Regional Advisor at Kings, for advice on green cover to improve long term soil health, give wider work windows and provide more competitive crops to help tackle black-grass.
HR Bourn & Sons in Lincolnshire is a large, progressive business farming over 4,000 hectares of mainly arable combinable crops and sugar beet, together with a beef cattle enterprise.
The soil types and conditions vary dramatically across the farm and unfortunately, the Bourn enterprise is not immune to the high levels of black-grass that have plagued much of England in the last few years. Andrew’s efforts have focused on improving the health of the soil and implementing cultural techniques to try and significantly reduce the levels of black-grass across the farm, whilst also reducing costs.
The move to spring cropping came from conversations with Mark Whitaker, Bourn’s long term Frontier agronomist on the farm. Following the move, Meehal proposed growing a simple cover crop mixture to avoid leaving the land bare over winter.
"We have been looking into cover cropping for a couple of years now, experimenting to see what fits best with ourselves. For example, in our second year of cropping we decided to experiment with drilling on wider rows to encourage natural weathering, in order to help the soil dry out between the rows after desiccation. This made a big difference on heavy clay soils in 2017, whereas in 2016 the same fields were left as fallow following a cover crop sown on conventional row spacings, because the land didn’t dry out until late April! We have done this again in 2018, as we need to find consistency in the system year on year to prove its success. I believe the true benefit of cover crops will only be realised over the next ten to fifteen years. But, the cover crops are only one part of our plan and work in conjunction with our CTF system and the use of organic manures. The ultimate aim is to give us more resilient soils to farm more sustainably moving forward. Our 2017 results are pleasing, with spring
beans after cover crop averaging 4.7t/ ha. Spring beans without a cover crop averaged 4.35 t/ha." stated Andrew.
This year, Bourn have moved into a bespoke soil structure mixture. They have gone a step further by introducing sheep onto the farm to graze some of the cover crops. Hopefully this will aid drilling, as less trash will be present and there will be quicker recycling of nutrients available to the cash crop.