Multispecies cover crops in subtropical horticultural plantations

Coffee plantations with one row showing bare earth and the next row showing green cover crops.

Multispecies cover crops have been a hot topic of conversation in the world of horticulture, due to their perceived ability to sequester carbon, break up the soil with large tap roots and improve biodiversity on farms.

But where is the proof this actually works?

Southern Cross University’s Professor Terry Rose is at the forefront of research on this topic.

Professor Rose has spent the last few years running a trial of multispecies cover crops in subtropical horticultural plantations, and the latest updates on the project have just been released.

It is one of eight projects funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s $2.5 million Soil Extension Program.

The challenges

The aim was to establish and maintain six cover cropping trials on different farms.

Unfortunately, the project faced some difficulties due to the 2022 floods.

Damage to lower parts of the Koonorigan coffee site led to the owner deciding not to continue participating in the project.

Furthermore, two floods and severe weather resulted in the Tully macadamia site being abandoned due to high levels of flood silt deposits in some areas, erosion of soil from cover crop rows in other areas, and difficulties in access.

Collating the data

Despite these setbacks, the team remained focused on the project’s objectives.

The project team is now collating soil and insect data for statistical analysis.

Final soil samples were taken at the Zentveld’s coffee plantation site, and all other sites were finalised in 2022 after the winter 2022 cover crop planting.

Soil sampling was completed during this period, with samples being processed in the lab for the final report and for inclusion in a peer-reviewed journal article.

Final insect diversity measurements were taken, and the data is now being collated for analysis.

In addition, cover crop biomass sampling was completed at Zentveld’s property during this period, with sampling on other farms completed in 2022 after the final winter cover crop.

Next steps

Biomass samples were processed in the lab during this reporting period, and the data is now being collated for the final report and inclusion in a peer-reviewed journal article.

Professor Rose and the project team are eagerly awaiting and analysing data from the final results of the trial, which will provide valuable insights for horticulturalists and researchers alike.

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