Yorkshire farmer leading the way in national guidance to get best out of crops

Farmers nationwide can now benefit from the UK’s most comprehensive and first independent guide on cover crops, co-designed by farmers with the help of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Farmer Scientist Network.

As a free and easy-to-use online tool, the Cover Crops Guide is scientifically supported to give farmers the most up-to-date information and advice on cover crop varieties and their management.

Cover crops are non-cash crops that add soil organic matter and nutrients, reduce soil erosion and leaching, promote moisture management, benefit biodiversity and mitigate pest and disease outbreaks, when planted between two cash crops.

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This in turn can boost harvests, make cost savings for the farm, and deliver for the wider environment, helping growers to qualify for additional revenue under the Government’s new agri-environment schemes.

York farmer Angus Gowthorpe.York farmer Angus Gowthorpe.
York farmer Angus Gowthorpe.

Using the Guide’s interactive plant species selection tool, growers can assess the suitability of different brassica, legume, cereal and other varieties of cover crops.

Each species is profiled for its winter hardiness, root depth, grazing potential and nitrogen fixing and storing qualities. Details of each species’ sowing period, depth and rate, seed size and insect benefits are provided, as well as growth rate, reliability and soil benefits.

Ultimately, the Cover Crops Guide aims to provide farmers with free access to the most comprehensive information for successful adoption of cover cropping on UK farms, making this more achievable for more farmers at a crucial time for agriculture and the environment.

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Leading the project has been York based farmer Angus Gowthorpe.

York farmer Angus Gowthorpe is an adopter of no-till farming and has led on the Cover Crops project.  Credit Simon Hill Photos.jpgYork farmer Angus Gowthorpe is an adopter of no-till farming and has led on the Cover Crops project.  Credit Simon Hill Photos.jpg
York farmer Angus Gowthorpe is an adopter of no-till farming and has led on the Cover Crops project. Credit Simon Hill Photos.jpg

He runs a 500-acre mixed farming enterprise and is a winner of Farmers Weekly’s Environmental Champion of the Year. With support from the Farmer Scientist Network, Angus got the project off the ground by securing funds through the Farming Innovation Programme in collaboration with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as part

of the Research Starter Competition. The competition supports farmgate ideas to solve major problems facing farming business on themes of sustainability, productivity, and resilience.

He said: “This new Guide has been developed with input from a dedicated steering group of farmers and soil experts, brought together by the Farmer Scientist Network at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society; individuals with years of on-farm experience of what works and what doesn’t in different soils and climatic conditions.

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“What makes this a particularly comprehensive resource, and the first of its kind in the UK, is the intelligence contributed by the wider farming community. It also draws on carefully curated literature and scientific research. We hope this tool proves to be useful for anyone who is looking to get started in cover cropping, or who wants to finetune their species mixes to maximise benefits to their soils, wherever they are in the UK.”

The Cover Crops Guide was officially launched on Wednesday at The CropTec Show in Warwickshire.

Dr Dave George, Chair of the Farmer Scientist Network at the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and Precision Agronomist at Newcastle University said: “There is so much innovative work going on at grassroots level in British agriculture to farm smarter and more efficiently at a time when financial support for the industry is being increasingly linked to environmental gains. Part of this story is the use of cover crops, which have clear tangible benefits to soil health."