The Benefits of Rescue Crops and Summer Sowing

What are rescue crops? Why are they important? What varieties do we have to offer?

For our latest blog, Arthur Barraclough – our game crop advisor for the South and Southeast – looks at rescue crops and the role they play

Most people reading this will be aware that the daily activities of shoot managers and the success of a good game crop are both heavily influenced by the wonderfully ‘predictable’ British weather. Despite months of hard-work and preparation, the best laid plans do not always suffice.

Thankfully, rescue crops exist for those who experience issues with their spring-sown crops and need some insurance for the approaching season.

Rescue Crops

Much as it sounds, a rescue crop is something that is used to ‘patch-up’ or replace a failed or struggling spring-sown game crop. It is important to use something that is fast-growing and reliable to ensure it does the required job.

Traditionally, mustard was always the go-to option for rescue crops. It is fast to establish, and the small seeds can be broadcasted by hand, which prevents the need for drilling. Modern day rescue crops, however, have moved on significantly from this and we now have a wide range of hybrid brassicas that have the ideal traits for game cover.

For example, Utopia is a very popular kale/mustard hybrid which grows at the same speed as mustard but has large leaves like kale. Customers often broadcast a rescue crop like this into an existing game cover, helping to improve the winter-hardiness of a cereal-based crop.

Another common hybrid used as a rescue crop is Interval – a kale/rape hybrid, and even our modern, yellow mustard variety – ‘Lightning’ – provides a considerably more robust crop when compared to traditional mustard.

As we move later into the summer, I would normally recommend a mixture to help spread the risk even more. Autumn Promise and Keepers Relief are two mixtures we supply that can be planted right through until early September – although the ideal time is probably mid-late July.

Other Benefits

Aside from acting as good insurance, due to the type of crops used rescue crops provide several other key benefits.

  • Weed Control – Being able to plant the crop later means that a good stale-seed bed can be achieved before drilling. This basically involves creating a seed-bed early to encourage weeds to grow, these can then be sprayed off with glyphosate prior to planting – enabling the full spectrum of weeds to be controlled. This is also often a common approach for organic growers where the top layer of soil can be repeatedly cultivated to remove the weed-burden before planting the crop.
  • Flushing Point – Another good trait of later-planted crops is that they are generally leafy brassicas, so they make good flushing points.
  • Grazing – Rescuecrops are generally suitable for grazing by stock after the season – which can be a useful way of keeping the farmer on side.

A lot of shoots also use rescue mixtures after the harvest when there is stubble being left over winter.

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How Is It Looking This Year?

In general, spring-sown game covers have established well this year, although the extreme contrast in weather has caused some issues.  A very cold April delayed any early maize drilling, and then the wettest May for years delayed a lot of our customers further.

A lot of game cover was drilled in the first half of June, and this has enjoyed the good moisture and warmer temperatures. Some earlier planted maize has been slower to get away, with three weeks of cold rain in May not helping. Some of these crops would almost certainly benefit from a rescue crop to help improve any particularly poor or patchy areas. However, customers need to be wary that if the crop has been sprayed with a residual herbicide that this can potentially kill any crop that is planted in the same plot.

A gradual build-up of weeds, particularly in wild-bird mixtures grown on the same plot each year, means that many of our customers are planting summer-sown mixtures to enable the creation of a good stale-seed bed prior to drilling. Our Autumn Promise complies for stewardship and can be planted a late as August if needed.

Something else that is important to mention is that flea beetle have been particularly bad this year and I have seen a number of brassica mixes hit very hard. These will be re-drilled with a suitable crop this month – Utopia or Autumn Promise would be my advice. Autumn Promise has the added benefit of including non-brassica species such as buckwheat and vetch, so not all of the mix is vulnerable to flea beetle attack..