Game Cover Crops – Cultivation and Moisture Retention

It is safe to say that the weather has not been the gamekeepers or the farmers friend recently. You don’t need us to tell you that the last few months have been wet, to say the least. This has created a lot of uncertainty when it comes to game cover crops.

With the weather as it has been, we have received a constant flow of questions and concerns from customers asking us when the right time to cultivate is, how they should be cultivating the land and when the right time to plant next seasons game crops is. All of this alongside the ongoing queries surrounding the sustainable farming incentive (SFI).

And, although it may sound bizarre, moisture retention should still be in mind, despite all of the rain.

Many will have already bitten the bullet, cultivated and have have crops in the ground. Those that have need to be on heightened alert for vermin and, in particular, slug pressure. Monitor crops regularly and work within accordance with slug pellets.

However, those who haven’t cultivated, read on and see what we have to say on the best options.


Not The Year to Plough 

Hopefully those that took the decision to cultivate already opted against ploughing. With the ground as saturated as it is, 2024 is not the year to get the plough out.

Ploughing now, after the rain we’ve had, is going to smear the ground and create a plough pan. For anybody unaware of what that is, a plough pan is when the plough causes wet ground to solidify at the depth the plough is set too – usually around eight inches. The pan prevents water infiltrating deeper into the soil and reduces water supply to the lower layers. It also means that game cover crops and other crops have to gather all of their water and nutrition from the top eight-inch profile, causing real potential for the crop to struggle. Furthermore, if the rain continues, a plough pan can cause flooding.

Rather than ploughing, we highly recommend min-tilling the land this year.

This will reduce the amount that the soil is disturbed by using shallower cultivations, not turning over the soil and limiting the number of passes.


Retain Moisture for your Game Cover Crops

Min-till comes with several advantages, with moisture retention being one of the leaders. Over the last few years we have seen prolonged wet spells, followed by hot, dry spells of very little rainfall – and there is every chance that this year will be the same. It is well worth hedging all bets and retaining as much moisture in the soil, just in case we see a repeat of the last few years.

Not only does min-till help retain moisture in the soil, it also –

  • Improves soil health, helping crops establish more quickly
  • Reduces damage to soil structure
  • Reduces soil run off and retains nutrients that would escape during run off
  • Retains greenhouse gases in the soil, rather than releasing them into the environment
  • If the water is retained in the soil, this increasing the protection from flooding.

We know that everything – including game cover crops – needs moisture to grow, and moisture at depth is particularly important for root structure, so always keep this in mind.

Ultimately, most game cover crops and game cover mixtures can be drilled throughout June, so there is still plenty of time to get any cultivation work done on the ground and drill the crops. Now is not the time to panic and make any rash decisions. If you were to drill crops like brassicas now, they won’t grow away from slug and flea beetle. And other crops, such as sorghum, will lose vigour with the cold weather that we are seeing.

For anybody unsure, remember that you can speak to your local Bright Seeds agent or contact us directly.    


Autumn Sown SFIs 

One other thing to consider are autumn sown SFIs. We have seen a lot of arable land that has been far too wet to get crops down and, with the weather still wet, it is getting too late to drill anything.

So, rather than leave the land bare – and all the financial and environmental issues that come with this – putting it into an SFI scheme is the best idea in terms of still generating an income.

There are several SFI schemes that can be sown in Autumn, including –

  • AHL1: Pollen and Nectar Flower Mix
  • NUM3: Legume Fallow
  • IPM2: Flower-rich Grass Margins, Blocks, In-Field Strips
  • SAM3: Herbal Leys

The links above will take you straight to all the appropriate game cover crops and mixtures that Bright Seeds have to offer for each scheme.

Click here for further SFI guidance