Two degrees below zero . . .

and I’ve got to think about crop rotations and weed pressure!

By Jeff Moyer, Farm Manager, The Rodale Institute

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world—convinces me that we're on the right road."


How to contact Jeff

Jeff's email:

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

KUTZTOWN, PA, February 4, 2003: The holidays are all behind me, my daughter is back at school, and things are returning to normal (whatever that is). If you live in the northern half of the country like I do, I don’t have to tell you – “It’s Cold Outside"! If you happen to live somewhere where it’s warm and pleasant year round – try not to rub it in. When it’s 2 degrees below zero at six o’clock in the morning and the ground is covered with snow it’s difficult to think about planting crops or last years weed problems. But, as farmers, thinking about it now already means we’re behind schedule.

(By the way, if you are intending to plant certified organic seeds as the new standards require, or if you are getting an exemption and planting untreated seed, I suggest you complete your orders as soon as possible to guarantee you’ll get the seeds you need. It may be too late already for some fast selling varieties.)

One of the problems I’ve had over the years has been my weed management in soybeans. I’ve always had success managing the weeds in corn since it usually follows a year of small grain followed by a legume cover crop or hay. Corn also helps by getting taller then the soybeans and shading out the weeds. So I’ve been looking at changing my rotation.

The way my standard rotation works now, I come out of wheat into either a cover crop of hairy vetch or an alfalfa/grass hay crop. I then plant corn followed by soybeans then off to oats or rye then back to wheat.

But, as you can see, I have two row crops planted right after each other. And soybeans are second in line when the weed pressure is the greatest. So, I’m thinking about planting oats after corn then soybeans. This would give me an opportunity to plant a row crop, soybeans, after a grass crop. And if you look at the calendar from the time oats are harvested in late July and the soybeans are planted in late May of the following year, I will have close to 10 months to manage cover crops and tillage to help set up a weed free field for the soybeans.

If any of you have ideas or thoughts on how to improve upon this idea let me know. I’d also be interested in getting your thoughts on cover crop ideas to plug into that 10-month window of opportunity.

How exciting this winter has been. As I mentioned last month, I’ve been attending meetings: meetings on international marketing, research meetings with university faculty, and farmer/grower meetings. In the past when I attended these same meetings, very little if anything was mentioned about organic farming. And while I wouldn’t say we have taken over the show, organic is being discussed and even showcased everywhere I go. I hope you’ve noticed the same trend at the meetings and conferences you attend.

Today we’re shipping the last of our certified hay, which we sold back in October. Our soybeans all shipped last week, so all I have left to ship is the last of my corn crop, which was all sold before December. Prices in organic feedstocks are good and the demand is strong. It certainly is a good time to be in the organic market.

Today is also the day our county is holding its local “crop days.” I’ll be heading over there to see what all my neighbors have to say about the 2002 growing season and their thoughts for 2003. I know in the past everyone was depressed because the future didn’t look bright for conventional grain production. I’ll give you a report next month on how it went.

Next week, I’ll be going to the annual PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) meeting -- a completely different outlook on the future of agriculture. PASA is one of the largest sustainable ag conferences in the country, and everyone there has a positive outlook for his or her operation. I’ll let you in on my experience of that meeting as well.

Till next month, let me know your thoughts on my rotation changes and any cover crop ideas you may have in mind. And feel free to shoot us questions about organic seeds and seed availability. If I can’t answer your questions, I’ll pass them on to someone who can. To send a question or comment, click here.

from one farm to another,