Cover crop plantings key to regenerative farming

*With winter slowing down the growth of summer grasses (e.g. the rampant kikuyu) – it gives us a chance to plant some winter cover crops and allow the finer native grasses and clovers to rise and thrive.

Terry Rose, director, Centre for Organics Research at Southern Cross University, Lismore, (which offers the world’s first Regenerative Agriculture undergraduate studies) made a couple of visits recently and showed great delight in seeing two native subtropical grasses doing well in our coffee rows. Happy days!

It was all the more interesting as the native species were showing up in rows where we had planted cover crops last year. So, it seems that bringing in more biodiversity deliberately through planting our 7–9 cover crop seed mix, has then ‘allowed space’ or the right conditions for our native grasses to thrive. Yay! A moment of joy in our journey of regenerative farming; bringing life and diversity to the land we look after.

As to cover crops, we started planting in June. On the coldest day in 50 years, I believe! We shot our hand up to say ‘YES PLEASE’ to being a trial farm for the as-stated-above SCU Centre of Organics/ Regenerative Ag Alliance (RAA) ‘Multispecies cover crops in subtropical horticultural plantations’ research project. Two coffee farms, three macadamia and one avocado farm were selected across the NSW Northern Rivers district. Close enough to SCU Lismore campus so the research crew can visit regularly.

The project will continue until Feb 2023, with four plots chosen to monitor for soil biology, carbon sequestration, nitrogen fixing capacity, fungal/bacterial life and lastly but most importantly, the insect life. Entomologist Christopher Carr will come out regularly and it will be most interesting to see, for instance, which pollinators we will be encouraging, with the flowers later in the year.

Beneficial bugs, bees, (native and European), worms and microbial activity shall be scrutinized and recorded – as well as welcomed! Measuring our soil biology is equally valued and we look forward to sharing the details with our Australian coffee growers through meetings and future open field days.

Soil results will also be written up into peer-reviewed publications and shared with our macadamia, avocado and general horticultural networks. NSW Department of Primary Industry in-house facilities will measure the soil health parameters such as microbial biomass carbon, fungal:bacteria ratio, total nitrogen and total carbon and more. Phew! Lots to come.

Stay tuned for details to be shared!

The mix of seeds planted: forbs and deep-rooted plants, known pollinator attractors (i.e. flowers) and legumes for nitrogen fixing: clovers, wooly vetch, field pea, chicory and radish, mustard, canola, rye corn buckwheat and sunflower seeds, all mixed in together.

We had some winter rain. So, stay tuned to see what gets going. Monitoring, measuring with real scientific research will be exciting, along with the actual joy such biodiversity and wildlife our plantings will bring to us, our team, other growers and our visitors.

Bring it on! As long as we get some regular rain we will be in good stead for growth.

*Written by Rebecca Zentveld, President of the Australian Subtropical Coffee Growers Association (ASTCA), and a coffee grower and roaster at Zentveld’s Coffee Farm and Roastery at Newrybar near Byron Bay.

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