Cover crops and biofumigation
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, and is 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.
This guide summarises useful information developed by the Soil Wealth and Integrated Crop Protection (ICP) Phase 1 projects from 2014-2017, and where to find it. These resources are relevant to all major vegetable growing regions in Australia. The resources developed includes fact sheets (51), case studies (12), videos and apps (36), e-newsletters (32 editions), as well as demonstration site information. The main topics covered by these resources include crop management, pest and disease management, and soil, nutrition and compost.
All the resources in this guide can be found on this project website.
The Soil Wealth and Integrated Crop Protection projects provide R&D extension services, products and communication on improved soil management and plant health to the Australian vegetable industry.
From 2014 to 2017, RMCG and AHR have delivered the projects for Horticulture Innovation Australia. Phase 1 of the projects have now been completed. So, what’s been achieved?
The Cowra demonstration site in southern NSW is focussed on improving soil health through cover crops and improved tillage.
Read this update to find out more about the soil moisture monitoring results for summer 2019 following a ryecorn cover crop being sown in winter 2018.
This presentation by Ted Kornecki at the 2014 International Soil and Water Conference in the USA summarises work undertaken on roller crimper termination of cover crops at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, in Alabama, USA.
Both large scale and small scale roller crimpers are tested on cereal rye and crimson clover.
As part of its levy-funded project navigating the wealth of soil health information available to growers, the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture has undertaken a series of interviews with growers from around Australia to provide insights into what they're doing to manage the most valuable resource on their farms: their soil.
In this video, Tasmanian grower James Addison discusses the value of cover cropping in maintaining soil health and increasing productivity in potato production.
Some of the advantages of buckwheat include rapid growth, strong weed suppression and quick breakdown of residues, allowing it to fit into tight rotations and certain crops like baby leaf.
Watch this video to find out more.
Watch this webinar recording to learn about the latest techniques in managing the soilborne disease Fusarium wilt in vegetable crops including solanaceous, legumes, cucurbits and sweet potatoes and to understand the latest ways of managing this disease to keep your plants in production for longer and improve yield and pack out rates.
Six years ago, Rob Hinrichsen and his team at Kalfresh decided to focus on four key practices – controlled tra c, cover crops, soil biology and compost – to improve the soil health across their farms. The main drivers were to improve crop yield and quality, as well as the sustainability of the business.
Rob’s emphasis on softer tillage, boosting organic matter with compost and cover crops has helped the soil recover and support a healthy population of beneficial soil organisms. Rob supplements the naturally occurring biology by using specific beneficial organisms to improve the robustness of his farming system.
This case study provides insights into some of the main changes involving controlled traffic, cover crops and compost at the Kalfresh demonstration site in Queensland.
The Schreurs family have been farming on the Koo Wee Rup swamps in Gippsland, Victoria since 1963. After noticing a decline in soil condition, resulting in waterlogging and an increase in weed and disease pressure, the Schreurs partnered with the Soil Wealth and ICP team to trial a range of different cover crops to improve the overall quality and productivity of the farm from 2014 to 2017. Schreurs & Sons farm run by Adam, Ben and Chris produces a variety of different products including celery, leeks and baby leaf spinach.
This case study provides an overview and lessons learnt from trialling different cover crops at the demonstration site in Cora Lynn, Victoria.
Growers, Scott and Kent Samwell, have always been using cover crops to rest the soil between brassica plantings and prevent erosion on the hilly land. They mainly planted rye grass and oats, and have been trying new types over the past 4-5 years, including rye grass mixed with legumes. They continue to be interested in investigating further options. This includes rye grass, faba beans, vetch and triticale, and potentially lucerne and rye corn.
This case study presents insights and lessons from trialling different cover crops and IPM at the Eastbrook Vegetable Farms demonstration site in Mt Barker in South Australia.
Nematodes in vegetable soils - managing the bad and good ones with Dr Sarah Collins (webinar recording)
This webinar with Nematode specialist Dr Sarah Collins from Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development WA focused on the pest nematode, outlining the life cycles of the root-knot and root-lesion nematodes and how this can be used to target control measures.
The webinar also covered beneficial free living nematodes and how these can be managed and used as soil health indicators.
Members of the Soil Wealth and ICP team were recently interviewed for the Potatoes Australia magazine. The key message? Many of the soil health and plant protection practices relevant to vegetables, also apply to potatoes.
Click through to read the article.
Read this excellent summary of some common tools for managing soil health in cropping/mixed enterprises in Tasmania. Generally, the more tools you can use, the better!
This poster was prepared by Adrian James, NRM North, with contributions by Bill Cotching, Doris Blaesing, Greg Gibson and John McPhee.
There has been some great coverage of our economic case study for cover crops, as well as a demonstration site update on the compost trials from Gingin in Western Australia in the Winter 2017 edition of the WA Grower magazine.
Click through to read the articles.
The farm walk on cover crops by Kelvin Montagu was streamed by Good Fruit and Vegetables and can be viewied here.
Hear from Rob Hinrichsen of Kalfresh in QLD about using cover crops, or 'green carbon', in commercial vegetable production systems.
This video captures Rob's experiences in using different types of cover crops such as tillage raddish and sun hemp to achieve different objectives, some of the benefits of using cover crops such as increased soil carbon and crop resilience, as well as providing advice to those starting out.
This case study outlines the economic considerations when using cover crops in vegetable production systems. It is based on lessons learned from several Soil Wealth – ICP demonstration sites, during the period 2014 to 2016.
One of the most important considerations is being clear about the purpose of using cover crops in the farm system system as it influences the way you may judge costs and benefits and the timing of these.
The overall benefits will depend on each situation. However, to figure out what works for you on your farm and a specific purpose, talk to others who have used cover crops for a similar purpose / situation; trial cover crops or include a test strip if possible.
This fact sheet outlines key factors and the management options for the successful transition from cover crop to cash crop in vegetable production systems.
A webinar on biofumigation cover crops presented by Julie Finnigan and Dr Kelvin Montagu as part of the Soil Wealth and Integrated Crop Protection projects.
Did someone say popcorn? This is just one of the crops involved in the Soil Wealth extension project at the Cowra site. Along with chickpeas at Kalbar, eggplant in Darwin, carrots in Gingin, coloured lettuce in Gippsland, and 8-kilo cabbages in Bathurst – these various projects look at tillage, soil structure, cover crops, and the resulting healthy soil using compost.
Cover crops are being rediscovered by vegetable growers as practical ways of improving soil productivity and health. While cover cropping is a simple concept, it can be complex to implement in todays intensive production systems.
In this webinar Dr Kelvin Montagu from the Soil Wealth - ICP team, talks about the use of cover crops in vegetable production and the practical issues which need to be considered.
The Cover Crop Chart (v. 2.1) is designed to assist producers with decisions on the use of cover crops in crop and forage production systems. The information is based on USA conditions and care is required to adapt the information to Australian conditions.
The information provides a good summary of the different cover crop options for warm and cool seasons.
Match your main soil management aim to the southern Australian summer cover crops.
The Soil Wealth and ICP projects have managed a demonstration site at Kalfresh since early 2015.
The results from the demonstration site confirm that by following four principles in managing vegetable cropping soils, both soil condition and financial returns can be maximised. It’s a true win:win situation.
Match your main soil management aim to the southern Australian winter cover crops.
David East is a lettuce grower with Bewray Pty Ltd east of Manjimup. Since 2011, David has been growing the biofumigant mustard Caliente during winter between his summer lettuce crops.
Maintaining or increasing soil carbon makes good sense – for the environment and for soil productivity. While climate scientists talk about soil carbon, you will know it better as soil organic matter. And the productivity benefits of soil organic matter are legendary:
• Providing a slow release supply of nutrients
• Improving cation exchange capacity and nutrient- holding ability
• Buffering against soil acidity
• Improving soil structure and aggregate stability
• Improving soil water holding capacity
• Reducing erosion risk.
This fact sheet summaries the opportunities and management options for mitigating or sequestering soil carbon in vegetable soils.
A healthy topsoil is a great asset to have, as this layer of soil contains the highest concentration of organic matter, micro-organisms, nutrients and biological activity. Lost topsoil can’t be replaced in a human’s lifespan. Therefore erosion, probably the biggest culprit in the loss of topsoil, should be effectively managed.
This fact sheet provides essential information on managing soil erosion, including reducing the impact of wind and water. The easy to read publication also guides decision-making on managing your irrigation system, controlling run-off water, covering exposed soil areas, improving soil structure and increasing cohesion between soil particles.
Vegetable pathologist, Dr Len Tesoriero and AHRs Dr Kelvin Montagu, recently presented a highly successful webinar on how to manage the soil borne disease Pythium in vegetable crops.
The webinar was recorded, and is now available as a YouTube video. You can click on the link below to watch the full Webinar. You can also download the presentation and follow the link to an ICP factsheet on how to manage soil borne disease in vegetable crops.
On September 17th a field day on biofumigation at David and Lee East’s Bewray farm at Manjimup, WA attracted over 45 growers and industry specialists.
Dale Gies outlines the importance of correct establishment and water and nutrient requirements of biofumigant crops.
Soil-borne diseases are a major threat to vegetable production and now a new project is tackling the problem.
Hear from Tasmanian lettuce grower Colin Houston about the exciting demonstrations being run on his new farm aimed at improving profitability and sustainability.
Vegetable growers and advisors discuss how attending a master class has changed the way they manage soilborne diseases and influenced their business.
Vegetable growers and advisors talk about how implementing integrated crop protection and new soil management practices has changed their business.
Steve Groff, farmer and the founder of Cover Crop Solutions, Pennsylvania, USA provides an excellent overview of cover cropping in the USA.
Part 2 of 5 of a Green Crops and Biofumigation seminar presented by Dale Gies from High Performance Seeds Inc, Washington, USA. Seminar hosted by Serve-Ag Tasmania, February 2015 and broadcast by Soil Wealth.
Weeds increase the cost of growing vegetables, reduce crop yield and quality, and impact farm management decisions, such as timing of harvest and choice of herbicide options.
Missed the Bulmer Farm Walk on 21 May 2015? Catch up on reduced tillage options in vegetables in this video from Jeanette Servers of Good Fruit & Vegetable.
This video documentary showcases grower practices used to better manage sweetpotato pests in their Australian sweetpotato production systems. It was produced as a result of project VG09052 'Integration of crop and soil insect management in sweetpotato', which was undertaken by the Australian Sweetpotato Growers Association (ASPG inc).
Part 1 of 5 of a Green Crops and Biofumigation seminar presented by Dale Gies from High Performance Seeds Inc, Washington, USA. Seminar hosted by Serve-Ag Tasmania, February 2015 and broadcast by Soil Wealth.
This book is a practical guide to ecological soil management that provides background information as well as details of soil-improving practices. It is meant to give the reader an appreciation of the importance of soil health and to suggest ecologically sound practices that help to develop and maintain healthy soils.
This webpage contains videos, documents and photos from the 5th International Symposium of Biofumigation held in September 2014.
This in depth educational video examines the different species of cover crops on the market today. Learn the characteristics and benefits of planting legumes, grasses, cereals, and more. If you're new to cover crops, this is the video you must see.
This book by Gary Zimmer, a farmer in the United States, provides support for farmers who would like to reduce chemical inputs and use natural processes within their farming systems.
This publication from ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) in the United States provides information on improving disease suppression within soil.
This article discusses the benefits and challenges of incorporating mixed cover crops into a farming system.
This handbook published by the Sustainable Agriculture Network in the United States provides helpful maps and charts, detailed narratives about individual cover crop species, chapters about specific aspects of cover cropping and extensive appendices that
will lead you to even more information about managing cover crops.
Biofumigation is the use of specialised cover crops, which are grown, mulched and incorporated into the soil prior to cropping. High biomass, especially roots, can provide the traditional benefits of green manure crops, and if done right, naturally occurring compounds from the biofumigant plants can suppress soil-borne pests, diseases and weeds.
Sole reliance on fumigants like Metham Sodium often changes soil conditions and reduces inherent disease suppressive soil properties, reinforcing continued reliance on fumigation to deal with soilborne diseases, pests and weeds.
New management strategies for lettuce drop and white mould of beans.
A reduced till system on this Cowra vegetable farm delivered soil, cost and crop benefits.
NSW farmers, Ed and James Fagan explain how they developed a reduced tillage vegetable farming operation in Cowra, NSW.
Reduced till is a system change that relies on keeping the soil in a healthy condition through the use of permanent beds, controlled traffic, cover cropping and crop rotations rather than frequent cultivation.