Farm research finds mechanical alternatives for destroying cover crops

Mechanical methods have proven successful in destroying cover crops in a field lab with Innovative Farmers.

The farmer-led trial, supported by AHDB, found that rolling and crimping were potentially effective alternatives to glyphosate, as they appeared to be equally good at cover crop destruction.

The field lab, co-ordinated by the not-for-profit Innovative Farmers network that enables farmer-led research, also found that using the mechanical methods did not negatively affect yields of the subsequent crop.

All farmers involved in the trial found the methods to be heavily dependent on cold weather, as frost made the destruction of cover crops easier.

David White, farmer and triallist, said: “The field lab was very enjoyable – it was great to share knowledge with other farmers and to have the scientific backing to develop meaningful results. 2018 was a really difficult year, with the very wet spring and very dry summer, but all the methods were effective in destroying cover crops.

“My preference would be the rolling, as most farmers already have a set of rollers on farm so that makes it practical. I still had issues with weeds but using the roller or crimper would mean that I can manage with a single spray and still farm commercially – although we would still depend on getting a good frost.”

The field lab also investigated flailing, but farmers found that whilst this destroyed the cover crops more quickly, they often grew back, making it less effective overall.

Farmers also found that crimping twice was most effective; one treatment did kill the crop but at a slower rate.

Liz Bowles, Associate Director for Farming & Land Use at the Soil Association, co-ordinated the field lab and said: “This field lab has been really encouraging – there were no negative impacts on crop establishment following the range of cover crop termination methods, and they were as effective as glyphosate in destruction. However, this was a one-year trial and each farmer used a slightly different methodology to suit their farms, so it isn’t possible to make firm conclusions. As the results do indicate that other methods could be useful we need further research into alternatives. This highlights how it important it is for trials like this to be carried out on real farms.”

The farmers involved also found that glyphosate was still needed to control blackgrass and brome grass, indicating the need for further research in this area.

An Innovative Farmers field lab investigating brome grass control and resistance launched last month and is open for farmers to join. Please contact to sign up.

To find out more about these, and other fields labs happening around the country, visit where you can sign up to the network and access open source information for free.

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