There has been much coverage in the farming press about the benefits of cover crops for the growth and yield of subsequent crops, including sugar beet. The reported benefits of cover crops include weed suppression (especially blackgrass), nematode control (through biofumigation and trap crops), prevention of leaching/retention of nutrients, improved soil structure and reduced establishment costs. Despite all the interest in cover crops, the scientific evidence to support these claims is limited. Specifically for sugar beet, there is a lack of scientifically robust data on the effect of cover crops on the establishment, growth and yield of the crop in UK conditions.
BBRO is currently funding a number of projects on cover crops. These are focussing on two key areas: 1) the impact of specific cover crop varieties on beet cyst nematode populations and 2) the effect of cover crops on soil structure and the growth and yield of the subsequent sugar beet crop. The projects will consider the advantages and disadvantages of cover crops for specific situations alongside an economic evaluation of their use.