Greening with catch crops: Creating a sound foundation

Last year, farmers had to fulfil what are known as the greening greening requirements for the first time in order to receive full area payments as part of EU agricultural support. Alongside cultural diversification, the requirements also included creation of what are known as ecological priority areas which should take up at least 5 per cent of agricultural land.

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Catch crops are cost-effective mixtures which do not require much in terms of a seedbed and seeding technology.Greening with catch crops: Creating a sound foundation
Catch crops are cost-effective mixtures which do not require much in terms of a seedbed and seeding technology.

In 2015, these ecological priority areas were fulfilled in approximately two-thirds of cases within Lower Saxony and North-Rhine Westphalia by sowing catch crops. Other measures such as nurse crops, leaving fallow, cultivating leguminous plants, or creating buffer or marginal strips were of considerably less importance. During 2015 greening catch crops catch crops were cultivated on 14 per cent of agricultural land in North-Rhine Westphalia. As a result of this, cultivation of catch crops reached a previously unachieved level of importance for the agricultural sector and was a discussion topic in many places. Many new insights regarding different catch crop mixes were gained, alongside the suitability of individual plant varieties and even types. Particularly in regions where processing is prevalent, where traditionally maize and grain crop rotation are predominant, the choice largely falls upon various varieties of cruciferous plants, such as mustard or oilseed radish. The benefits are clear: These are cost-effective mixtures which do not require much in terms of a seedbed and seeding technology. There is no need to drill, sowing is also successful using a spreader.

Success in cultivating catch crops

Fast initial development of mustard and oilseed radish should ensure effective weed suppression and relatively high tolerance to late sowing. However, in practice there have been considerable differences between the various mixtures of mustard and oilseed radish used, which could not be explained by the sowing date or the location. Mustard plants that begin to bloom very early with few leaves and many stalks, or oilseed radish plants that have still not bloomed by Christmas as they are still very strongly focused on creating the radish (storage organ). As well as the seeding rate, these differences are based on the properties of the white mustard and oilseed radish varieties used. Properties of specific varieties for successful catch crop cultivation of maize are of considerable importance in regions growing sugar beet and potatoes due to phytosanitary aspects and have been taken into account for some time.

Oilseed radish takes over various tasks.

The "inclination to flower and mass creation at the beginning" criterion set out by the Federal Plant Variety Office is of major importance in catch crop cultivation of mustard and oilseed radish. Pronounced initial mass creation with the mustard and oilseed radish varieties used ensures quick closing of rows and optimal weed suppression and tolerance to late sowing due to quick growth. The inclination to flower must be considered differently with regard to mustard and oilseed radish. A low inclination to bloom, in other words a relatively late flowering, combined with rapid initial development, is considered a very positive thing with mustard varieties. The plants quickly generate very leafy foliage and provide maximum competition. Oilseed radish varieties should be considered more closely with regard to their inclination to flower and be chosen depending on the relevant objective. If nematode-resistant oilseed radish is cultivated to combat beet cyst nematodes, then the longest possible growth phase of late-blossoming varieties ensures success in this field. On the other hand, oilseed radish should improve soil quality with regard to cultivating maize and, as far as possible, not cause any issues in the successive crop. Late-blooming oilseed radish types particularly tend to create radishes if seed doses are too low, which results in enhanced hardiness in winter and also tolerance to herbicide. In this aspect oilseed radish has had a negative press again this year, as areas of oilseed radish plants that were not frozen require much more effort to eliminate.

However, foregoing the benefits of deep-rooted oilseed radish in catch crop cultivation before maize and only using mustard is not the best idea from an agricultural perspective. The improved topsoil kornpro EU catch crop mix provides a good solution for the 2016 cultivation year.

Stock density is important

Only late-blooming mustard sorts are combined with early-blooming oilseed radish sorts in a mixture of mustard, oilseed radish, and gold of pleasure. The early inclination to flower inherent in oilseed radish means that the plants sprout quicker and grow faster due to the strong competition provided by the fast-growing mustard. Due to the widespread suppression of radish creation, the plants are more likely to freeze and are easier to control in the subsequent culture. Sufficient stock density and the correct choice of variety is necessary to create this effect, and this is only ensured by adhering to the recommended seed dose. Using the gold of pleasure as a cruciferous plant with its roots and intensive secretions of exudates supports further nutrient decomposition and storage in the topsoil.

The whole topsoil catch crop range provides a wide selection of mixtures for various crop rotation systems. The relevant suitability for crop rotation and the suitable sowing times and seed doses can be found at topsoil.de or in the current 2016 topsoil flyer. The topsoil mixtures that are suitable for "catch crop greening" due to their composition in terms of varieties and in quantities, have the abbreviation "EU" in the description and are "the best reason for your yield".

More information about this topic is available from Thomas Husemann, tel. +49 251 682-2066, thomas.husemann@agravis.de.