Belinda Bailey says Interest in soil health and green cover crops has been building momentum for the last few years.

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Green cover headlands sown on potato and root vegetable crop headlands in the UK is proving a positive attraction for pollinators, and helping to conserve valuable soil resources.

Successful results from a 2016 pilot project of the Syngenta Operation Pollinator initiative, instigated and supported exclusively by growers for the multiple retailer, ASDA, now aims to plant up over 100 hectares of the specially selected Green Headland cover mix on more than 30 farms for the coming season.

Headlands around potato and root vegetable fields are typically left uncropped, to aid management and harvesting of the cropped field area. However, these bare soil areas are then dangerously exposed to soil erosion or damage by headland-turning of heavy machinery. They often become a weed burden and have little or no ecological value.

The Syngenta Operation Pollinator partnership with ASDA and its supply-arm, IPL, has worked with wildflower seed suppliers, Kings, to create a specific Green Headland seed mix. It is designed to be easily established with the crop, protect the soil structure and provide a valuable feeding and habitat resource for invertebrates and other farmland biodiversity.

Monitoring of the first year’s performance has revealed the great value of the flowering mixture for a wealth of insect life, along with the positive feedback of growers on the benefits of the mixture.

Independent ecological assessment of invertebrate biodiversity, from one visit to each of the trial Green Headland areas, revealed over 11,000 insects collected and 140 different species. That included 41 species of pollinators; 29 species of known predators beneficial to crops and at least 118 species of potential food sources for game and other farmland bird chick rearing.

Chris Brown, ASDA Senior Director of Sustainable Sourcing, highlighted the project demonstrated the good stewardship of farmland by growers supplying the company’s stores and customers.

He cited the project as a genuinely sustainable initiative that can offer a simple cost effective and time efficient solution to make better use of a hitherto unused area of land – to improve the environment and to protect the valuable soil resource.

Furthermore, Adrian Baker, Farm Manager at F B Parrish & Son, based at Lodge Farm, Chicksands in Bedfordshire, reported one of the benefits of the cover crop used this year was how easy it was to establish. Soil protection is vitally important on the farm’s light greensands and he noted how the green cover was effective in reducing the risk of soil erosion during potato and onion crop irrigation.

Interest in soil health and green cover crops has been building momentum for the last few years. Now growers can realise the significant potential such crops can bring to wider farmland biodiversity.

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