Soil cover and wintering of cover crops

Innovations Biodiversity Peat Colonies

The sandy soils of the Peat Colonies region of the Netherlands, containing old and stable organic material, are in need of active organic matter as well as food for the soil life. One of the measures that can contribute to this is the cultivation of cover crops. At the regional level, however, there are still many questions about the practical use of cover crops. In the Peat Colonies region, the Louis Bolk Institute is carrying out two projects to investigate regional practical questions between 2020 and 2022.

The average peat-colonial farming plan is characterised by an intensive cultivation of starch potatoes, which are often grown on the same plot every other year. Arable farmers harvest these late in the season, leaving little time to sow a cover crop. In addition, the peat-colonial valley soils are sensitive to nematode problems, which further complicates the use of cover crops. In two projects, we are testing which cover crop (mixtures) can be used in a peat-colonial construction plan.

Subproject soil cover

In the soil cover subproject, we look specifically at different available options which work with a late starch potato harvest. We investigate, among other things, how these affect biomass production, rate of soil cover, effect on nematodes, and microbial activity. We also measure soil temperature at different depths to see whether the cover crops affect the freezing of postharvest lost potatoes.

Subproject cover crops

In the cover crops subproject we test different mixtures for their biomass production – and therefore the amount of organic matter that enters the soil – at different sowing times. We monitor (insect) biodiversity and measure soil life such as microbial activity. In both projects we also investigate how the cover crops can be terminated in the spring without applying glyphosate, and we monitor the crop emergence of the succeeding crop.

Collaborations and financing

The sub-project soil cover commenced at the end of 2020. The cover crop sub-project will start in the autumn of 2021. These projects are part of the overarching project Innovations Biodiversity Peat Colonies, led by the Agrarian Nature Association East Groningen, Agrarisch Natuur Drenthe and the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe. This project is financed from the Rural Development Program 2014-2020 for the Netherlands (POP3).