No-till corn, part 1: Corn and quack grass
Have enjoyed your articles on The New Farm. I was wondering--what
positive experiences have you had with covers and no-till corn? Also,
if someone was trying to eliminate herbicide use, what methods would you
use to clean-up fields with heavy quack grass infestations? Could you
give me a list of covers you are trying this year; we are always trying
something new. Thanks.
Good morning, Roger,
I sure do have had some positive experiences with organic no-till and
cover crops. I’ve also experienced some failures along the way.
I’ve been working on systems design and modification for at least
10 years now and have come to some basic conclusions. While I don’t
have time here to condense all those years worth of information I’ll
give you those conclusions.
- No-till has a place on an organic farm.
- In an organic no-till situation, cover crops and their establishment
prior to planting the main crop (corn or soybeans) is extremely important.
- While planting corn or soybeans in a no-till organic system is doable,
it is not sustainable in a continuous no-till system. The system must
include tillage at some point in the rotation.
- On an organic farm, eliminating tillage during a single season is
easier than reducing tillage. I either plow or no-till. Only disking
or chisel plowing creates weed pressure.
As far as cover crops go – we use legume and legume grass mixes
for corn ground (usually hairy vetch or hairy vetch and oats). For soybeans
we use straight grass like rye, wheat or barley.
I have found that timing of killing the cover, equipment used to kill
the cover, and planter modification are all critical components to the
success of the operation. (For a more detailed description of my work
with cover crops, and the new cover crop roller designed to aid in managing
the covers in a no-till system, check
out Laura Sayre’s new article.)
As far as quack grass goes, it’s a tough situation. I usually suggest
one of two treatments, both based on the idea that quack or thistles are
usually the result of mismanagement in the past … and total infestations
took time to establish. Therefore the treatment will take time to be effective.
The organic treatment would be to fallow the field by rotating successive
plantings of buckwheat and grain rye in rapid succession and the necessary
tillage for their establishment over an 18 month period. Of course, this
means you would have two growing seasons with no marketable crop. The
second treatment would not be organic and would require an effective one
time herbicide treatment followed by 3 years of non-certified crop rotations
geared towards minimizing the quack grass return. This would allow you
to market a conventional crop while working towards certification of the
Hope this information is helpful. Please feel free to email