James Alexander "We're measuring different ways of destroying cover crops, and how this affects the following crop"

James Alexander has been interested in finding different ways to destroy cover crops on both his organic and non-organic land. Last year he joined the Terminating Cover Crops field lab, to test techniques such as crimper rollers, grazing sheep, flailing and mulching.
James Alexander, Primewest

James Alexander, Primewest


What’s the trial about?

We are looking to measure the different ways of destroying a cover crop and how this effects the following crop. All of us in the group are looking to get away from using glyphosate. The organic side can’t use it but even the conventional farmers are looking to lower its use. Some people think that farmers are spraying lots of chemicals around but progressive farmers are actually using less and less.

From my business, being conventional and organic, we learn a lot from both. It’s always good to transfer the learnings. We’ll all do things on different days, in different weathers and make different discoveries. That’s a major part of the trial: working in a group to find the best timings to get rid of a cover crop.

What benefits might the trial bring?   

Organically, you haven’t got any chemical options so if we can find a reliable method of controlling a cover crop I’d go no-till organic. I’ve been told it’s not possible because of our climate, but the more I’ve learnt about the issue the more I’ve understood that it’s to do with cover crop species, and what you do before and after. If I can get organic no-till to work then I don’t see why we can’t bring those ideas onto the conventional farm and use a lot less chemicals than we are at the moment to control the weeds. The trial will let me demonstrate to agents and landowners that: “we can do this, it will be successful, and I can prove it to you!” Having a big research body like ADAS behind you goes a long way with some people when you trying to get them to make a decision.

How was it working with a group of researchers like ADAS?

ADAS are probably some of the best because they have their field trial system worked out. Trialling new ideas is time consuming, so from my point of view ADAS have made the set up very easy as it’s all done on tramline whips.

Every year we are doing trials on the farm, but with ADAS it’s about having the science that gives you results.

What do you think of farmer-led research?

I’ve been supportive of it for ages. We’re all doing on farm trials but we’ve just got to get a bit of scientific support. That’s why I think the Innovative Farmers idea is very good, it’s the farmers coming to the group and saying: “we want to try this and we need this”. I think every farmer in the country does a couple of trials a year, or something a bit different, and this knowledge might just stay on the farm.

Field lab perspectives: Hear from other Innovative Farmers

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