Optimising cover crops for the Australian vegetable industry (VG16068)


The Australian vegetable industry is dependent on healthy soils to maintain profitable and sustainable farms. However, the intensity of vegetable production, market demands, and cost squeezes are placing more pressure on cropping soils underpinning the $3.8 billion vegetable sector.

Today’s growers are rediscovering cover crops as important tools for improving soil structure and health, controlling soilborne disease and weeds, reducing erosion and nutrient loss, and adding nitrogen.

This three-year research project brings cover crops into the 21st century combining the new science, machinery and management practices to make them work on today’s farms.

The project (VG16068), which started in July 2017, will be guided by a panel of growers and industry specialists. To deliver the project a partnership between Applied Horticultural Research (AHR), Tasmania Institute for Agriculture (TIA) and Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, has been developed under the management of Dr Kelvin Montagu from AHR.

“Cover crops were a forgotten practice which are now being rediscovered” Dr Montagu said. “But the science, vegetable industry and management practices have changed dramatically. We need to work out how to make best use of cover crops for today’s vegetable growers”

“Much of the recent research and development work on cover crops has been undertaken in North America and Europe. The project aims to build on the overseas work and “Australianise” this information”.

Key activities

The project operates across Australia in key vegetable growing areas. Activities include:

  • Develop and test agronomic practices for integrating cover crops into vegetable production
  • Research to identify best-bet cover crop practices that deliver targeted benefits
  • Demonstration of new cover crop species and mixes
  • Communicating the how, why and when of cover crops for vegetables

The field research is the powerhouse for the project. Specific aspects of cover crops will be examined in the various field trials.

“The project will be trying to understand how cover crops influence soil microbial communities and what that means for growers – from soilborne diseases to soil structure. This is a rapidly expanding area of research globally, but we are yet to work out how to use the information being provided.”  said Dr Montagu.

“The project will use the Soil Wealth and ICP website (www.soilwealth.com.au) to deliver information to growers.  Specific cover crop information will be included on the site and Facebook sites will be set up to enable growers and agronomists to follow trial progress,” he said.

 “The project will produce regional guides for cover crops, webinars, videos and factsheets. An exciting development will be the Cover Crop Coaching Clinics. The practical clinic will help growers work through the following questions, what do you want your cover crop to deliver? what window (timing, water) do you have? how are you going to get back to your cash crop? what equipment do you have for soil prep, sowing and termination and incorporation? And what’s your level of commitment?”  said Dr Montagu.

We are always keen to hear from growers interested in any aspect of the project so please contact me for a chat.

Kelvin Montagu

0421 138 019



This project has been funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited using the vegetable industry research and development levy and funds from the Australian Government.

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