Building Soil - Multi Species Cropping in an Oat Paddock
Back in October I visited Jamie Anderson and Lucky the Border Collie out at their farm in Williams. Jamie is one of our wonderful oats suppliers for Dirty Clean Food Oat Milk, rolled oats, granola and all things oaty in our range!
One of the farming practices Jamie uses to improve his soil health is the integration of multi species cropping or multi species cover crops and pastures into his cropping and grazing rotation. This lovely green photo was taken at the beginning of October this year, when the crop was looking lush and green.
This crop is a mixture of vetch, lupins, oats, canola, cereal rye, faba beans and wheat. Growing multiple species together helps to encourage a diverse soil microbiome - lots of different bacteria and fungi working together with the plant to access nutrients.
Now at the beginning of December, the plants have done their job and the paddock is looking quite different! The plant matter has been grazed by sheep, providing animal impact on the soil - stomping down plant residue, eating the cover crop, and providing nutrients for the soil via faeces and urine.
The sheep are great at trampling and eating, with these paddocks providing a smorgasbord of different plants for them to eat and nutrients for them to absorb.
The important part about trampling is that the sheep are pushing the upright stems so they flatten and come into contact with the ground. This provides multiple benefits for the soil. The microbes in the soil need the plant matter to be touching the soil surface for them to break it down. They also need the moisture from the urine and faeces to undertake this process. The soil is now covered with a thick layer of residue or mulch, which both reduces water from evaporating from the soil surface with the hot summer sun, whilst also helping moisture to infiltrate the soil when it does rain.
If you’re driving through the south west or wheatbelt this summer, keep an eye out for paddocks with residue on the ground like this - you may be driving past a regenerative farm without even knowing it! This paddock is now well set up for oats in the rotation next season, which will look something like the oats in the picture below. The nutrients from the previous year’s cover crop are now available for the oats, and end up in our Dirty Clean Food Oat Milk!