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Growing cover crops to reduce N losses and improve soil quality

Conor O'Callaghan, Teagasc Tillage advisor to Kepak Tillage Signpost Farm in Co. Meath discusses progress to date on establishing 270 acres of cover crops on the farm.

Cover crops are very effective at taking up any remaining nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) after the harvest of cereal crops.  Cover crops have very active rooting systems which help improve soil structure, sequester and add valuable soil carbon. They protect soils from over winter rainfall and reduce run-off losses especially on heavy soils.

Conor is exploring a number of cover crop options / mixes with farm manager Sam Myles on the Kepak farm.  At the end of the year cover crops will be evaluated for there suitability on the farm and the soil type.  In addition, crops will be sampled in November to measure N uptake, biomass production and carbon sequestered.

Other Signpost measures on the farm

Soil Fertility

The farm has been intensively soil sampled for major nutrients (pH, P, K) and field-by-field advice applied to tailor crop N, P & K applications. Calculated farm N applications and applied economic optimum N rates for specific crops based on fertiliser N costs and grain value.

Slurry management

Cattle slurry application in now applied by LESS in the growing cereal crops in early spring to supply early crop N requirements and supply P and K thus reducing farm chemical N requirements.

Protected Urea

Protected Urea was used for the first time in 2022 to supply N for cereal crops and results to date have been very good.