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Growing catch crops after winter barley can bring some unexpected benefit

Growing a catch crop after winter barley can bring some unexpected benefits alongside the additional winter forage.

Crops used for winter grazing can bring great benefits.
Crops used for winter grazing can bring great benefits.

Last summer’s drought awakened many livestock producers to the opportunities of growing a catch crop, but agronomists say this is not something to be reserved for difficult seasons.

 

Steven Gate, of Agrovista, says it is something which should be considered in any year, and works particularly well after a crop of winter barley or before reseeding a grass ley.

 

He says: “Last summer, many dairy, beef and sheep producers grew a variety of catch crops after their winter barley harvest, which tided them over winter at a time of forage shortage.


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Benefits

“However, in any year, it is something worth doing, as it can offer a cross-section of benefits, ranging from improving finances through the use of more home-grown feed, to benefiting soil structure, reducing surface run-off and breaking the cycle of pests and disease.”

 

A variety of possible crops means there is something to suit most situations with forage rape, stubble turnips, kale and Italian rye-grass among the possibilities.

 

He cites a dairy producer in Wigton, Cumbria, who gained more than 30 tonnes of fresh weight (FW) per hectare (12t FW/acre) at more than 7t dry matter (DM)/ha (2.8t DM/acre) in three cuts of silage between last October and early May, by sowing a crop of Italian rye-grass after winter barley, before putting the field into maize.

 

Crops used for winter grazing can bring even greater benefits, as there is a saving on labour and bedding, while soil fertility improves through the stock’s distribution of manure.

 

“Stubble turnips, for example, provide excellent keep for lambing ewes over winter,” says Mr Gate, whose advice is to get the crop drilled as early as conditions permit.

 

He says this should ideally be immediately after straw has been removed following winter barley harvest, usually in late July.

 

“The seedbed should then be prepared with the least possible disturbance, as anything that moves the soil costs money and causes loss of moisture.”

 

Direct drilling with good seed-to-soil contact is usually the preferred option, requiring a lower seed rate than broadcasting.

 

After drilling, extra seedbed nutrition may be required, while early control of any volunteer cereals is essential.

 

He says: “The crop should also be closely monitored for pests and diseases, such as flea beetle or sawfly, in brassicas which would require immediate action.”

Results

Fertiliser may or may not be required, depending on circumstances, but excellent results can be achieved with foliar micro-nutrition through the farm sprayer.

 

Mr Gate says: “Livestock producers who have bare soil on their farms over winter may be missing an opportunity, not only to improve economics of their business, but to enhance soil structure, reduce erosion and improve the following crop.”

Strip-grazing

His 100-head pedigree suckler herd of Beef Shorthorns begins strip-grazing rape in mid-October, keeping calves at foot until late January. Calves are then weaned while cows continue to graze, also with access to trailers of straw.

 

Cows do not come in for housing until mid-April, when their feed can be more closely monitored, before calving and returning to grass in May.

 

Helped by the farm’s sandy loam soils, Mr Coates says catch crops have been a great success.

 

He says: “We are trying to be as self-sufficient as we can to save costs, but this has made our winter management much easier, with the bonus of improving health and hardiness of calves.

 

“Calves are outside during the pneumonia period, usually November or December, and we have not had any cases since we started this.

 

“With all the knock-on improvements, it is difficult to put a figure on how much catch cropping has saved, but there is no doubt it is more than worthwhile.”

CASE STUDY

CASE STUDY

Paul Coates had been growing a catch crop for his sheep for many years, but only recently introduced it for his suckler cows.

 

Farming 340 hectares (840 acres) at Barrock End Farm, Armathwaite, Carlisle, he moves onto about 28ha (70 acres) of his cereal ground with a Horsch min-till drill, usually around July 20, after winter barley straw is removed.

 

After seeding forage rape, he applies 100kg/ha of 34.5 per cent nitrogen and later knocks out any volunteer cereals with a herbicide.

Copy of CASE STUDY

CASE STUDY

Paul Coates had been growing a catch crop for his sheep for many years, but only recently introduced it for his suckler cows.

 

Farming 340 hectares (840 acres) at Barrock End Farm, Armathwaite, Carlisle, he moves onto about 28ha (70 acres) of his cereal ground with a Horsch min-till drill, usually around July 20, after winter barley straw is removed.

 

After seeding forage rape, he applies 100kg/ha of 34.5 per cent nitrogen and later knocks out any volunteer cereals with a herbicide.

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