Protein crop trials to boost soil quality

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THE most colour at Cropvale is from a trial looking at short-term protein crops and whether they could have a role in the UK.

Mr Long said it was not so much about getting forage from these crops, but growing them for a short period in the summer to fix nitrogen and improve the soil.

Just producing a crop, taking perhaps three months, and then ploughing it in had the potential to build up organic material in the soil and massively help the crop following it, he said.

The trial is looking at different crops, mainly clover, from around the world. It will look at things such as cutting dates, re-growth and feed quality when clamped, but the main focus is what the varieties can do to the soil.

Growing options

Of the 14 crops, several are already available in the UK, such as vetch, lucerne, lemon red clover, tetraploid red clover and the white clovers Alice and Crusade.

More unusual ones are arrow leaf, strawberry and balansa clovers, hairy vetch and shaftal.

Mr Long says birdsfoot trefoil is exciting, as it claims not to cause the bloat problems associated with livestock grazing clover.

Alexandrian clover, grown in Argentina, North Africa and the Mediterranean, is showing promise because of its bulk. Crimsom clover, popular in France, Spain and Portugal, could be sown with an Italian rye-grass to produce a high protein silage and fix nitrogen over six months.

But Mr Long is most excited about sweet clover – the bulkiest of the trial varieties: “It’s got the most legs on it. There was a lot of bulk in just 10 weeks, so you could just use it to fix nitrogen and plough it in.”


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