At the root of the problem

04 Root_cyst_nematode_infection_resultClive Wood offers a word of warning on how to avoid mysterious cover crop problems in the coming year.

In the majority of cases, game crops need to remain in the same place each year, more often than not because it’s the best location for holding and presenting quality birds over the guns. This hallowed ground has to keep delivering the goods every season, in what can only be described as a difficult rotation.

It’s very easy to refer to game strips as poor quality land, but the yearly decomposition of good-quality green material and fibre back into the soil usually allows the soil structure and nutrient levels to be maintained and, in a lot of cases, improved. Instead by far the most common issue leading to severe growing problems in game crop agronomy is acidity, or a poorly managed pH.

“Many will comment that ‘the old farming boys could grow good kale’ and it’s right: they could”

We have all seen the results of growing a new crop of kale on fresh land: you get strong-stemmed plants, a big canopy of leaves and very few weed problems in the first year. Many will comment that ‘the old farming boys could grow good kale’ and it’s right: they could. But we often fail to remember that they would have hand-weeded, hoeing every inch for weed problems, and before oil seed rape became very popular in the mid-60s, pest populations such as stem weevil and cabbage stem flea beetle were considerably smaller. We have all seen how seed dressings for flea beetle and herbicides for weed control distinctly improve the plants’ vigour and growth.

On the shoot that I am involved with, we have moved a couple of game strips around this year in an attempt to increase the flying quality and presentation of the birds. Both strips have been in their original locations for at least 15 years, if not longer, and for the majority of this time will have grown either kale or maize.

“Club root is a fungal spore that lives in the soil and is only transported and moved around by the soil”

The old game strips have been returned back into the arable rotation for this year. You might expect the crops of oil seed rape and winter wheat to be reasonably poor following such continued growing of game covers, but the result has been exactly the opposite. Both crops are way ahead of the rest of the field and the oil seed rape is a good 10 inches above the surrounding arable crop. We often take soil tests from game strips in the spring with surprisingly high results for phosphorus and potash and magnesium but very poor for soil acidity, leading to a major restriction of the plants’ ability to use the available nutrients.

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