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Sustainable Farming Incentive: Winter Cover Crops

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The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has received a number of queries from farmers and rural businesses about the way winter cover crops work under the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

We have put together some information about cover crops, and how they can be used in a way that best suits your farm.

What are cover crops?

Green cover is any crop or vegetation that covers bare soil to protect it over the winter. Under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, farmers have the option to use crops or vegetation that provide a green cover to protect bare soil over the winter. These are referred to as cover crops. They are an effective way of improving soil quality over the course of several months or years, depending on the crop planted.

This could include:

  • autumn-sown crops such as winter cereals, linseed and oilseed rape
  • a quick-growing cover crop
  • leaving weedy stubbles that give sufficient cover to protect the soil

Farmers can choose what cover crops they decide to grow. Action 4 of the guidance explains Arable and Horticultural standards. This covers the introductory and intermediate levels which require a well-established winter cover on at least 70% of the land entered into the standard each year. The aim is to protect the soil surface and provide root growth that maintains soil structure, supports soil biology and minimises nutrient leaching, soil erosion and runoff.

Under the new guidance, there are no set requirements for how farmers want to carry out actions. If you are planting cover crops or vegetation, they need to be:

  • suitable for winter sowing
  • fast growing
  • frost tolerant to provide adequate cover over winter

If you’re using a quick-growing cover crop, you may find it helpful to read the AHDB information sheet about cover crops.

You can also read the ‘How To’ guide on GOV.UK to find out more.

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