ONE FARM TO ANOTHER
Small grain harvest coming soon, and
things are looking good ...
... but disease resistant pumpkins were a bust. Plus, mid-summer field days and new fungi research that promises to boost yields.

By Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute Farm Manager

Editor's NOTE:

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:
jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

Posted July 11, 2003: First cutting hay is all put away. Some of it cut a bit late but most of it without any rain. Rotary hoeing and first cultivation has been completed for corn and soybeans. Again late and in some cases in conditions far too wet to really be considered successful. Of course this means we’ll have some weeds in both crops this year. Looks like the weed populations shouldn’t affect the yield, but it hurts the pride. Both mine and Owen’s (Owen is the field foreman here at The Institute.)

Usually by early July I’m getting ready to harvest small grains. For me it all starts with barley and finishes up with rye. But last fall I didn’t plant any barley, so that takes care of that. The winter wheat is still weeks away from harvest here in Pennsylvania. The rain and cloud cover we had every day in June pushed everything back. The oats look great; they enjoyed the cool damp weather even if I didn’t. And the rye – well, rye always does well on this farm but it’s all weeks away from being ready for harvest.

Even though the grain isn’t ready, I seem to be on the same time schedule as every other year so it’s off to the equipment building to get the combine in shape. Mark and I also need to get the stirring auger replaced in the grain bin in preparation for drying the wheat (Mark is the mechanic here at The Institute)

"Weeds in the corn and soybeans this year shouldn’t hurt our yields, but it sure does hurt the pride."
The apples in the orchard are beginning to size up and the leafy greens in the garden look great. Tomatoes are a different story. They need more sun. I planted several acres of pumpkins again this year as I usually do. Only, this year I tried some new varieties that are touted as being resistant to powdery mildew. (A problem I sometimes have late in the season). It seemed the variety “Magic Lantern” didn’t germinate well at all while the old stand by varieties did just fine.

Have any of you noticed any problems with germination of disease resistant varieties? One of our research technicians, Matt Ryan, is also working on a project looking into compost tea as a treatment for powdery mildew.

I’m busy preparing for a field trip to the farm of Don Kretchmann out on the other side of the state in Rochester Pennsylvania. (Click here for a profile of the Kretchmann farm.) We’re helping Don host a field day on his farm on July 18th. I plan on making a brief presentation. But more importantly I plan on learning lots more about his and other operations. I learn so much when I get off my own farm and out onto another farm. I never fail to take away some useful information from every farm I visit. I hope all of you take advantage of opportunities like this one to get off your own farm this summer to learn from each other.

Better yet, volunteer to host a field day on your own farm. There are plenty of organizations looking for host sites, and you’ll gain valuable insights into your own operation by going through the process of playing host. We hosted a small group of farmers for a twilight growers meeting here two weeks ago and I learned some things about one of our research projects that I hadn’t known.

"One of the farmers engaged in our on-farm trials reported a two-fold difference in transplant size when he inoculated the growing media with the mycorrhizae. Wow! That’s worth reporting. "

I knew we were working with Dr. David Douds from USDA-ARS for the past 15 years, looking into the effects of mycorrhizae fungi on the yields of various grain and vegetable crops. Dave saw differences in the population numbers and diversity of species of the fungi between organic and conventional crops grown side by side in one of our long term systems trails (The Farming Systems Trial). He has shown that these microscopic fungi actually improve the efficiency of the organic systems. The fact that we use cover crops gives us nutrient benefits and the added benefit of host roots for the mycorrhizae to live on.

For the past two years Dave has been working on a system of growing the mycorrhizae on a host grass plant in small beds of compost. The mycorrhizae can then be harvested in the compost and used to inoculate potting soil for bedding plants and vegetable transplants.

What I didn’t know was that this year he is working with some local growers to move from research plots to growers' operations. One of those growers was attending the twilight meeting and reported substantial differences in the rate of damping off of pepper transplants and a two fold difference in transplant size where he inoculated the growing media with the mycorrhizae.

Wow! That’s worth reporting. I know Dave has reported yield advantages of 30% to 50% in peppers and potatoes that were inoculated with mycorrhizae in research plots. All in all I think this basic research will have a positive effect on farming practices in the future.

Several of you wrote to me for more information on the new constructed wetlands project I am working on for our visitor center here at The Institute. We hosted a meeting of the design team on June 18th. Now each of the team members is working on their particular area of expertise. I’ll be reporting on our progress from time to time to keep you informed. I think this will be an exciting project with long reaching impacts for those of us with onsite septic systems.

I always appreciate the emails and letters. So, please write and let me know what’s on your mind.

Now as I look out my window across the farm the small grains are flowing like waves across the hills, the sun is shining, the hay fields are greening back up, the corn is dark green and growing, and I look forward to learning something new…

From one Farm to Another

Jeff