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Boosting vegetable production with service cropping

The Role of Service Cropping in Boosting Vegetable Production

Boosting vegetable production with service cropping

Non-cash crops can be described as cover crops, green manures, nursery crops, biofumigants or companion plants. The term ‘service crop’ is being adopted to describe and encompass all alternative descriptions. Service crops offer a range of benefits to vegetable cash crops, including pest management, improved nutrient/water availability and soil resilience to adverse weather.

Consider your goals when planting a service crop including crop rotation, available windows and any management required before and after. Be mindful of diseases in your cash crops which are encouraged by your choice of service crop.

As a general guide:

  • Cereals provide quick and easy ground cover, preventing loss of soil and nutrients through erosion or leaching. They add large amounts of organic matter, but crop residues may be slow to breakdown, difficult to manage, or temporarily tie up nitrogen.
  • Legumes add nitrogen for your next crop by nitrogen fixation. They tend to add less organic matter than cereals, but residues typically degrade more easily which is useful in a tighter rotation.
  • Brassicas offer various benefits. Some have compaction-alleviating taproots, high organic matter, or disease suppression through biofumigation.
  • Other service crops host beneficial insects which suppress pest populations overall.

Within each category, particular species suit specific seasons or goals. Autumn is often a good time to establish service crops, though there are species which thrive in summer. Combining one or more species is an option to balance multiple benefits, whilst insuring against establishment failure if conditions are unfavourable to certain species.

For more information on using service crops in your rotation, ask your local Technical Horticulture Representative about the Dionysus® seed ranges.