Cover crops – silver bullet or white elephant?

10 August 2015

Ask any arable farmer if they want to improve soil fertility and structure while reducing soil erosion and nutrient loss, then they will say ‘yes’. Equally, ask any arable farmer if they want to increase costs and summer workload while adding to rotational conflicts, then they will say ‘no’. And herein lies the reason why the recent revival of interest in cover crops has reignited one of the classic farming debates.

It’s not just a case of whether you include them in your plans or not. Each type of cover crop has its own characteristics, so choice of species or mixture and their suitability to a particular system or objective can be equally as controversial. So too can establishment and destruction methods – spray off, cut, graze or direct drill? But which drill is best? What are the EFA rules?…and the list goes on.

So, it’s not surprising that discussions around the pros and cons of cover crops, which to go for and how to manage them has fuelled many a discussion on the Monitor Farms to date. They come up whether you start a meeting talking about soil management, crop establishment, nutrition or weed control. So, it seemed sensible to give them their own slot in the programme.

Each of the four Monitor Farms in the east region will be drilling a range of cover crops in different situations this summer so each of the groups can debate the subject further in the winter, but with the added advantage of actually being able to see, touch and hear about what worked and what didn’t.


Too much or too little? One of the many Monitor Farm cover crops being closely examined by the Stowmarket group.

The meetings where will see the cover crops, hear from the experts and debate the issues are:

  • Stowmarket, 6 November 2015
  • Royston, 1 December 2015
  • Huntingdon, 10 December 2015
  • Colchester, 9 February 2016

If you can’t wait until then, you can follow the debate on twitter by following @Cereals_East and using #monitorfarm, or to simply find out more about the ‘opportunities for cover crops in conventional arable rotations’, download AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Information Sheet 41 or read our new CrOptions page.

To find out what other meetings we’ve got coming up and to keep up to date with what’s happening on the Monitor Farm nearest to you; check out the relevant page of our website – go to:


I look forward to seeing you at one of the meetings coming up soon. Don’t miss your chance to find out whether cover crops are for you or to simply join in with the hot debate.



Tim joined AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with more than 20 years of farm business experience in the East of England. Based at Huntingdon, Tim previously worked at the CLA, where he was Regional Adviser for the East of England. Trained in agricultural business management, Tim has also worked as a farm business consultant, specialising in the direct management of farms and contracting arrangements.