What is companion cropping?
Companion crops are a range of crop species which are planted alongside the planned cash crop either before or at planting to help aid crop establishment by giving some protection from pests, increasing beneficial predatory insects and improving soil health. This has been practiced for nearly a decade in the UK with proven results. Companion cropping can be a key tool in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies, helping with managing cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) pressure in oilseed rape (OSR).
What are the benefits of companion cropping with OSR?
Companion crops defend against pests and help establish OSR:
- By disguising the OSR crop – Companion crops mask the plant volatiles which OSR produces, which is how CSFB locate the crop. This can result in a reduction of CSFB infestations.
- By attracting beneficial insects – Companion crops can attract many specialist and generalist predators of CSFB adults, eggs and larvae. When used alongside methods which create minimal soil disturbance, the presence of these beneficial insects can be further encouraged.
- By improving overall crop nutrition – The fast-growing annual legumes used will start fixing nitrogen within nine weeks. When destroyed, the companion crop will release nitrogen along with other key nutrients to the OSR crop during the growing season.
- By improving overall soil health – Berseem clover, fenugreek and buckwheat can encourage mycorrhizal fungi and improve soil function in other ways. Their own root systems can help drainage and improve soil structure.
- By protecting OSR growth - Many growers comment on reduced pigeon grazing where a companion is used.
Some growers choose to create a ‘living mulch’ by sowing the companion crop early, immediately after winter barley has been cut, for example. The OSR is then planted into this establishing companion species. As a result, there is better soil health, initial weeds are suppressed, and there is better moisture retention – all of which will aid establishment of the OSR crop.
Companion crop options from Kings
To help support crop establishment, Kings offers three varieties of companion crop seed mixes. We can also supply straight seed for berseem clover, common buckwheat and tartary buckwheat (Lifago variety).
Companion Crop Mix One
25kg - 3ha pack
- Contains fenugreek, berseem clover and common buckwheat
- The three-way mix maximises diversity and beneficial insect encouragement
- A convenient 3ha pack to match hybrid rape seed
- The three species all work in different ways offering a wide benefit.
Companion Crop Mix Two
15kg - 3ha pack
- Contains fenugreek and berseem clover
- Fenugreek and berseem clover are two species that are well-proven to be effective as companion crops to OSR
- A high fenugreek seed number
- A low overall seed rate for ease of sowing and economy
- All small seed for best broadcasting.
Companion Crop Mix Three
24kg - 3ha pack
- Contains berseem clover and common buckwheat
- High percentage of buckwheat for beneficial phosphate mobilisation
- Buckwheat is frost sensitive so will soon break down to ease competition through the winter
- A simple mix with good biodiversity and nutrient availability.
Straight species available
- Berseem clover
- Common buckwheat
- Tartary buckwheat (Lifago variety)
Companion crops should be spread onto the seedbed prior to drilling the rape or applied at a shallow depth using a separate hopper on the seed drill. We do not advocate mixing companion crop seed with the oilseed rape.
Get in touch
For further details, talk to your Frontier farm trader, agronomist or Kings advisor. Alternatively, you can get in touch with our team via phone, email or by filling out a contact form on our website. Contact us here.