Living Mulch Field Lab

Organic Arable is an organisation committed to improving the organic sector, we aim is to use some of our annual profits to fund projects and research we think will help organic farmers. This year we have pledged £2000 to part-fund the Innovative Farmers Living Mulch Field Lab. The funding will allow additional time for Organic Research Centre researchers to undertake more in depth analysis.

This field lab will be investigating the potential for establishing no-till organic/low input arable farming systems into a permanent living mulch under-story. The objective of this field lab is to investigate the potential for living mulches to create a permanent clover under-story into which cereals are grown. The aim being that the living mulch will suppress weeds, cycle nutrients, protect and enhance soil health, thereby achieving organic and low-input no-till systems - that can be more sustainable than those systems they seek to replace. We believe, if perfected, this technique could be a revolutionary method for organic cereal farmers although we are realistic in our ambition as the challenges are significant.

The field lab will include seven different farms, five of which are organic and two which are conventional no-till farms (including one educational/experimental site). The living mulch will consist of a mix of wild white and small-medium leaved clovers in a 70:30 ratio, undersown into a cereal cash crop in spring 2020. The mulch will be knocked back through grazing or topping, with a cash crop or strip drilled in the Autumn. This approach will be compared to a farm control consisting of current standard farm practice to enable a proper comparison of the two systems. Weed control (particularly for organic farmers) and cash crop yield are the main parameters the farmers and Organic Arable are in interested in measuring.

We hope this field lab will produce some interesting and promising results that will enable the organic cereal sector to become more sustainable. If successful it would aid farmers in reducing or eliminating ploughing, and as a result reducing fuel usage on farm. Reduced tillage has been linked to improved soil health in conventional no-till farms so having some success with this initiative would be fantastic.

One of our directors, Mark Lea, is one of the farmers taking part in this field lab along with long term members Jamie Stephens and James Hobbs, so we will keep you all updated with photos and reports from their farms on this blog. We are proud to be a part of this initiative and we all can’t wait to see how it develops.