SW6: Winter cover crops

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the winter cover crops option.

How much will be paid

£114 per hectare (ha).

Where to use this option

Available for Mid Tier and Higher Tier

Whole or part parcel


Only on one of the following

  • cultivated land that is vulnerable to nitrate leaching
  • cultivated land, draining directly to a watercourse, that is identified on the Farm Environment Record (FER) as at risk of soil erosion or surface runoff

Where this option cannot be used

  • from 1 January 2019, on land already receiving funding for Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) declared for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)

How this option will benefit the environment

Cover crops help to reduce nitrate leaching on land that would normally be left bare or down to stubbles during winter. It may also reduce the risk of potential pollutants, such as sediment and nutrients, being carried to neighbouring watercourses.


  • establish a quick-growing cover crop by 15 September that will provide a dense cover and protect the land from soil erosion and runoff
  • destroy the cover crop in late January or early February, a maximum of 6 weeks before establishing the following spring crop. When weather conditions delay establishment of a spring crop, the cover crop can be left until mid-March.

Do not:

  • apply any fertilisers or manures

Keeping records

Agreement holders will need to keep the following records and supply them on request:

  • field operations at the parcel level, including associated invoices

On your annual claim you will be asked to declare that you haven’t carried out any activities prohibited by the option requirements.

The following options can be located on the same area as this option:

Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option

The following section gives advice on carrying out this option successfully but does not form part of the requirements for this option.

How to choose the right location

This option on should be used on vulnerable soil types, particularly light sandy soils within nitrate vulnerable areas.

Use the run-off and soil erosion risk assessment form to identify fields at moderate or higher risk of surface run-off or soil erosion. You can then mark these fields on your Farm Environment Record map. You don’t have to use this form. You can use your own document if it gives enough information to meet the requirements

Choice of cover crop

  • a mix or a single crop can be used, but crops should be suitable for winter sowing, fast growing (to mop up N) and frost tolerant to provide adequate cover over winter
  • a mixture of seeds, such as rye, vetch, phacelia, barley or mustard, can be sown, or other crops such as ryegrass or tillage radish, but the choice of cover crop will depend on herbicide selected and the rates of application for the previous crop
  • choice of cover crop will also depend on the crops grown in the rotation

How to manage the crop

  • remove any areas of soil compaction but do not subsoil on archaeological features
  • establish the cover crop by 15 September, so it can take up soil nitrate before winter drainage water leaches it below the depth of the developing plant
  • establish by drilling or broadcasting
  • sow at a suitable seed rate to provide a dense cover and protect from soil erosion
  • destroy the cover crop in late January or February, before it is too well developed – if left too late nitrate leaching may increase the following winter
  • cover crop destruction may include an application of glyphosate prior to destruction by cultivation for the following crop

Using this option next to a watercourse

On fields next to a watercourse that are at risk of soil erosion and runoff, applicants should also consider creating grass buffer strips. They will help to capture any sediment or organic materials carried in runoff water. Options SW1 - 4m to 6m buffer strip on cultivated land, SW4 - 12m to 24m watercourse buffer strip on cultivated land, or other grass buffer options may be used.

Further information

See the Mid Tier manual or Higher Tier manual to find out more about the scheme and how to apply.

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 17 May 2018 + show all updates
  1. From 1 January 2019, this option cannot be used on land already receiving funding for Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) declared for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
  2. Updated for 2017 applications.
  3. Information updated for applications in 2016.
  4. First published.