Tackling orchard weeds without herbicide

This project looks to replace the orchard ‘herbicide strip’ (glyphosphate) with a green manure and is a trial of three such alternatives on orchards in Herefordshire. A suitable green manure will not only remove the need for regular herbicide application and thus improve soil ecology, but should reduce apple ground rot and blossom wilt (see pictures).

A metre-wide strip of bare soil under the canopy is common practice in conventional orchards in order to prevent ground vegetation from competing with the crop for nutrients and water. In cider apple orchards the strip also ensures that harvesting under the canopy is not hampered by bulky weeds. However, fruit that matures and drops before the harvest rots much faster on bare soil than in the alley (on grass). Not only does this result in a loss of crop but rotten fruit on the ground acts as a reservoir of infection for the following spring.

A suitable green manure will be low nutrient and water demand and grow close to the ground with little maintenance. Research funded by the NACM and carried out by Reading University in 2012 found that White Clover and Hard Fescue are likely to provide these characteristics. Dichondra repens is another plant selected by Reading as a more exotic alternative with suitable growing habits and nutrient requirements. The research, lasting two years, trials two different mixes of white clover and hard fescue (70:30 seed mix ratio and the reverse) and Dichondra repens, alongside a control.

Farmers are under increasing pressure from rising farm costs, changing legislation and consumer preferences so research that can help reduce crop loss and herbicide bills is very welcome. This research grant offers farmers the opportunity to get involved with research from the design stage and trial something practical that makes sense to their farm. We are thrilled that growers in Herefordshire have the chance to take part. Ultimately, this research is another step towards preparing a vital rural industry for the future and thus protecting our local economies, environment and heritage.

Click here for an interim report of our findings at the end of the first year of trials during 2014.

The project drew to a close with a booked-out farm walk at Westons Cider Mill in June 2016. The Final Report can be seen here.  Thanks to all who have supported the project through time, materials and sponsorship.

The research has been made possible thanks to funding awarded by the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme via the Soil Association. It is one of four winning projects in the first of their farmer-led innovative research grants. For more information visit their website: http://www.soilassociation.org/fieldlabs.

Our thanks go to the Clays at Showle Court in Monkhide and Westons Cider at the Bounds in Much Marcle for hosting the trial in their orchards. Thanks also to Germinal for providing seeds, Hutchinsons Ltd for sampling and Yara for Sample analysis.

Emily Durrant or Nick Read at the Bulmer Foundation would be pleased to hear from you with questions regarding this project. Please contact them on 01432 378409 / 07768950249 or email emily.durrant@bulmerfoundation.org.uk or nick.read@bulmerfoundation.org.uk.

You can follow this research project on twitter!


New ideas from farmers and research are put to the test by practitioners themselves. Problem-shooting workshops with farmers can spark important debate within the industry.


Involving farmers in research means results are more relevant and exposes grant funders, researchers and policy makers to their needs. Engaging farmers in the research process is an educational experience and dissemination of results to a wider audience can bring about industry-wide change in practice to more sustainable ways of farming.


Bringing farmers with different cultural management styles together and designing research that will provide wins for all.


Seeking step changes in horticultural practice which make sense for the farmer and the environment alike.