Cover Cropping with Rob Raven

Rob Raven is a member of our ABC Grower Group, farming 250ha on his farm at the Norfolk and Suffolk border with a wide range of crops and soil types. Regenerative practices are fundamental to Rob’s farming system, incorporating livestock and multiple species of mixed cover crops, including buckwheat, phacelia, linseed, sunflowers, clovers, beans, peas, and radishes. These contribute to improved soil organic matter, soil structure, and increased biodiversity.

“We started cover cropping because we wanted to see our soil improve. Having a mixed species cover crop means that all the different conditions are covered. With permanent living roots in the ground and a canopy above, we see a huge difference to soil health, workability and water infiltration”.

Where possible, Rob practices zero till drilling by direct drilling into the previous crop residue. If wheeling or compaction are evident, he uses a low disturbance subsoiler to alleviate subsurface compaction with minimal surface disturbance. For spring cropping, a shallow surface cultivation is sometimes used to speed up the drying and warming of the seedbed. This helps the drilled crops to establish quickly and easily to maximise yield, without undoing all the good work in improving soil health. Similarly, if the cover crop is too dense, he uses a crimper roller and/or sheep grazing to reduce the bulk without disturbing the soil. Rob has seen an increase in soil organic matter since he began farming regeneratively, with recordings up to 6% in some areas. He likes to use the Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure (VESS) scores to assess the soil’s structure and quality at different points across a field.

“Looking at how the soil performs, drains and yields across individual fields are the most important measures of soil health and quality. I’ll adapt our operations depending on the weather, soil types and what I think will work best each time”.

Rob’s farm also supports wildlife biodiversity and since avoiding insecticide use, there has been an increase in the swift and swallow bird populations. He leaves heavier land areas unsuitable to support crops and corners of fields untouched to increase the diversity of habitats, with livestock also supporting more biodiversity. Looking forwards, Rob would like to collect quantifiable data on soil health, water quality and biodiversity to monitor improvements across his farm.

“Demonstrating the practices that work best for specific soil types and structures will be great to provide confidence to others”.

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