Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Handbook 2013 (NE349)
EJ13 Winter cover crops 65 points per ha

This option aims to significantly reduce nitrate leaching on land where soil would normally be left bare during winter. In addition, in certain situations, cover crops may provide protection against soil erosion and loss of other pollutants carried in surface run-off water.

Any land that is vulnerable to nitrate leaching, particularly light sandy soils, is eligible for this option. Heavy soils are not eligible.

This is a `rotational option’. This means that it can move around the farm within the normal farm rotation, but the same total hectarage must be maintained each year.

To be effective, cover crops have to be established early in order to take up sufficient soil nitrate before winter drainage leaches it below the depth of the developing plant roots. The cover crops should be destroyed in late January or February before they are too well developed. Delaying destruction of the cover crop has the potential to increase nitrate leaching the following winter.

For this option, you must comply with the following:

  • Establish a cover crop by 15 September.
  • Drill or broadcast a quick-growing cover crop. The cover crop can be a mixture of seeds. Suitable species to include are rye, vetch, phacelia, barley and mustard. The choice of cover crop will be dependent upon herbicide choice and rates of application in the previous crop.
  • Sow at a seed rate that will provide a dense cover and protect from soil erosion.
  • Do not apply any fertilisers or manures.
  • Destroy the cover crop by cultivation in late January or early February, immediately before establishing the following spring crop, to minimise any nitrate losses. When weather conditions delay establishment of a spring crop, the cover crop can be left until mid-March.
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