As part of the Beyond Soilcare project GMLN partnered with local cropping farmer Fraser Pogue and developed an on-farm trial with the objective to test whether growing and grazing multi-species cover crops prior to a summer corn crop increases soil health and profitability, compared to a hay crop.

Cover cropping refers to the technique of sowing a crop in between periods of regular cash crop production with the main purpose of creating a living groundcover to protect the soil surface, control weeds and improve soil conditions. The cover crop can also generate income through livestock grazing, cutting for hay and/or harvesting seed/grain.

Cover cropping can use annual crop species or perennial pasture species (known as pasture cropping). This trial is focusing on annual cover crops, which can comprise of a single crop species or multi-species mixes.

Multi-species cover crops have a number of benefits, including:

  • Increasing plant diversity on the farm, which in turn increases food & habitat sources for beneficial insects.
  • Addresses a broader range of problems, as different plant groups have different impacts (eg. Legumes, brassicas, grasses, warm or cool season, root depths etc.)
  • Provide a food source for a broader range of soil biology.

The project involved setting up a paired paddock demonstration comparing the 2 treatments. The site is 14ha in total, split in half. One side was sown with oat & vetch (the Hay crop). The other 7ha was sown with a multi-species cover crop of 13 species, which was grazed.

Monitoring included measuring soil conditions (penetrometer, infiltration, bulk density, soil testing), Landscape Function Analysis, Biomass & organic matter and animal performance.

After harvest both sides were then sown to a summer corn crop.

Monitoring results can be found in the field day information booklet. (2.5MB)

Although this is the first year of the demonstration the results have been positive and encouraged Fraser with cover crops becoming a large part of his business. He is also happy to have introduced cattle into his system and will continue to utilise them as part of his management.

Watch presentations from field day below: