Improving Soil Health with Oilseed Radish
Soil compaction is a concern for many farms, as heavy machinery contributes to forming a hardpan that roots have difficulty penetrating. Compacted soil also does not permit sufficient amounts of air to be in contact with roots. Cover crops assist farmers by suppressing weeds, catching nutrients before they leach out, and breaking up the hard pan. Oilseed radish can contribute on all three of these tasks.
Oilseed radish is a common cool season annual plant that, when used in a crop rotation, can develop deep taproots that penetrate soils and help loosen compacted soil.
Oilseed radish has been found to be an excellent weed suppression crop as it can very quickly out compete and smother weeds once it is well established. Some sources note that oilseed radish may have the ability to suppress nematodes and other soil borne diseases.
Oilseed radish has also been found to be a very efficient nutrient scavenger, and readily takes up residual nutrients retained within the soil, thus preventing leaching of nitrates and other nutrients into ground water. This nutrient scavenging trait could be beneficial as a cover crop.
Using oilseed radish within a cover crop mix or with another companion crop may aid in retaining the nutrients until the following season. Some preliminary research in Nova Scotia has found growth with ryegrass has shown great weed control.
Farmers are actively seeking and experimenting with crops such as oilseed radish to improve their soils, improve farm incomes, and to solve problems with ecological solutions. Thanks to Kyra Stiles from the PEI Dept. of Ag. and Fisheries for assisting in research to this article.
This column is presented by the Kensington North Watersheds Association and the East Prince Agri-Environment Association to inform our communities of the ongoing efforts farmers are taking toward good environmental stewardship.