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MEMBER BLOG: I love cover crops

Mandy Stoker, Managing Director of environmental consultancy and ADBA member E4Environmentshares her love of cover crops and discusses how they can reduce soil degradation ahead of her presentation at the ADBA Research & Innovation Forum 2018, taking place on the 11th April at the University of Sheffield.

I was recently asked to visit a land owner who had a rather difficult and sensitive problem to deal with. The gentleman had been working in partnership with a business partner to clean up and restock two beautiful fishing pools which were to be opened up for leisure fishing. They had worked hard for a couple of years, and felt they had cracked it. Then, disaster. The water quality had suddenly changed. There was foam coming from a land drain and the pH had risen to unacceptable levels for fish.

On further investigation I could see an open field on higher ground above the pond. The field was sodden and muddy water was running down through big ruts and into drains straight into the pond. The field had been planted with maize (year on year) and left uncovered over winter. Frankly, it looked a mess and I felt sad for the guys who’d been making great efforts to clean the ponds. It was a situation that could have easily been avoided by using cover crops.

With the growth in anaerobic digestion, the demand for maize has increased and with it a growing impatience from the Environment Agency and general public about the state of fields, soil run-off and the use of maize as a fuel. 8000 hectares were used to grow maize in 1973; today, some 186,000 hectares are used. Between 2008 and 2014, 20% of the growth was for AD feedstock. Whilst it’s unfair to point the blame of increased maize growing on AD, it still doesn’t help with the PR of AD.

This situation could have been avoided by using cover crops. There are many plants that can be used as cover crops, each bringing a whole wealth of different benefits. My aim is to encourage farmers to use cover crops. Why wouldn’t you? Cover crops can not only stabilise soil, reduce erosion and prevent the leaching of nitrogen – a solution for the above problem – they can suppress weeds, lock in nutrients, improve soil structure and add to the organic matter.

At the ADBA Research & Innovation Forum 2018 on 11th April, I want to tell everyone about the quick wins using cover crops, why you should do it, the latest thinking and why Waitrose are so interested.


You can register your place for the ADBA Research & Innovation Forum 2018 here.

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