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The FFC Bulletin 2018 V3 July

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Non-chemical management of docks (Rumex)

Docks, mainly the broad leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius) and the curly dock (Rumex crispus) are common pasture weeds in cooler and wetter climates.  This extension report, originally written for PAN-EU, lays out all the key requirements and techniques for non-chemical management of docks. More…

Culinary oils as herbicides

Incidental observations in previous research at the BHU hinted that off-the-shelf culinary (cooking) oils may have a herbicidal effect.  The FFC has studied the effect of a range of culinary oils for their herbicidal effects on a range of weed and crop species.  It showed that some oils could kill some plants, and rapeseed oil was the best overall performer.  It is hoped that this preliminary look will be a springboard for future research, and due to culinary oils being edible, and therefore very safe to use, farmers will also be able to experiment to see if they are both effective and economic for their farming systems.  More…

The Jena Experiment and The ReMIX Project – the benefits of multi-species mixtures

There is growing interest among both scientists and farmers about the benefits of multi-species mixtures, particularly for pastures, fodder crops and cover crops (green manures).  The dominant view in agriculture since the second world war, was, that to maximise production, you found the species that yielded the most, and grew that in monoculture.  While logically appealing, it fails to take into account the myriad ecological interactions, practically in the soil, that multi-species mixtures have.  Research is increasingly showing that mixtures can outperform monocultures, with the wonderful term “transgressive overyielding” used to describe the situation where productivity of a mixture is larger than the maximal productivity of the constituent species, i.e., the components of the mixture facilitate each other to grow better in the mixture than pure stands.

The Jena Experiment and ReMIX project are two sound sources of information on using multi species mixtures.

The Jena Experiment in Germany is one of the leading and longest-running biodiversity experiments in Europe studying mixtures.  They have a wealth of information on their website as well as an excellent introductory video in both German and English.

The ReMIX project is (re)designing cropping systems based on agro-ecology exploiting the benefits of species mixtures to design more diversified and resilient agro-ecological arable cropping systems, and they also have an increasing range of valuable information on their website.

“Holy hay” – Sainfoin growers guide

With the growing interest in multi-species mixtures, there is also increasing interest in traditional fodder crops that have fallen by the wayside.  One of these being resurrected is sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) which was so highly regarded that one of its names was ‘holy hay’.  One of the outputs of the LegumePlus project in the EU is the ‘Sainfoin Growers Guide‘.  Sainfoin is particularly suited to thinner soils, and does not do so well in heavier wetter soils.  Download the guide here.

Trees for bees NZ – smart planting for healthy bees

The problems honey bees are facing internationally is gaining a lot of media attention, particularly following the decision of the European Union to ban neonicotinoid insecticides, in a large part due to their impacts on bees and other pollinators.  Trees for bees is an New Zealand providing a range of practical information aimed at farmers & growers and home gardeners on how to make their farms and gardens more bee friendly.  While some of the info is specific to New Zealand, there is a lot of information that is applicable to all temperate climate regions globally.

Overwinter legume cover crops reduce nitrate leaching

One of the well established rules of thumb for cover crops / green manures is that legumes, such as clovers, are great at fixing nitrogen, but, they are poor scavengers of nitrogen (N), mainly due to their ability to fix it, and also because they are considered to have uncompetitive root systems due to the very ability to fix their own N and therefore do not need to compete with other plants for N.  Therefore, the recommendations for which cover crops to use to catch N that could be leached overwinter has been to avoid legumes and instead focus on grasses, particularly cereals, such as oats and cereal rye, and some dicotyledons with deep root systems, e.g., mustards.  However, some intriguing research from ICROFS in Denmark has found that legumes, as components of mixtures, are effective at overwinter N capture, and, as the foliage has higher N content (e.g., compared with more strawy plants) they decompose quicker in the spring and supply more N to the following crop.  While this is just one piece of research, and one swallow does not make a summer, it is a pointer that, like many other assumptions in agriculture (e.g., monocultures), things are not as cut and dried as believed, and that we may have underestimated the potential of legumes as winter catch crops.  More research required!  Read the research summary.

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