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
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530
2004: Well, we made it through July here in Eastern
PA. It’s typically a dry month for us. One where we watch
the sky in the evening hoping for a shower to water the corn
and settle the dust. Not this year. We’ve been hard pressed
to put together three consecutive days without rain. That means
small grains were hard to combine, straw was even harder to
get baled … and hay – forget it. But I can’t
complain. The corn has never looked better, the soybeans are
growing, and we did get our wheat, oats and rye off while maintaining
high quality in the grain. In fact the wheat tested out very
well in terms of its test weight and low vomitoxin level. This
is increasingly important as buyers of human consumable grains
are testing for this and other mycotoxins.
What the heck is vomitoxin?
Vomitoxin (Deoxynivalenol) is a naturally occurring toxin
produced by several species of fusarium fungi as a by-product
of metabolism. The toxin causes scab or head blight in small
grains like wheat, rye, oats and barley. Scabbed wheat tends
to have kernels that are lighter in weight, resulting in lower
yields--and even 1 ppm of vomitoxin in infected feed has been
shown to cause significant rejection and illness in pigs,
which are most sensitive to these toxins. The buyers I spoke
with are allowing 2 ppm.
Our own wheat was at 0.6 ppm this year. For some thoughts
on why ours was so low, and for ideas on preventing the problem,
see research manager Paul Hepperly’s
comments in the box below.
Vomitoxin is most prevalent when humid warm conditions occur
at flowering (May in Pennsylvania). These conditions allow
air borne fungal spores to infect the grain through the flowers.
Wheat scab can be devastating for both organic and conventional
farmers. It lowers yields but, even worse, decreases grain
quality to the point where it can be damaging to the health
of farm animals and people alike. Scab, also known as fusarium
head blight, first appears as a premature bleaching of wheat
heads, often called white heads (late June in Pennsylvania).
This bleaching is conspicuous in still green fields. Often
only part of the spike, usually the upper part, is affected
by scab. At this stage, if you collect 100 random heads and
count the fully scabbed and partially scabbed, you can estimate
the loss in yield using this formula:
Loss = 1 X the # fully scabbed heads
0.5 X the # of partially scabbed heads
With scab, what appears to be a good looking wheat crop will
result in a lower than expected yield. Scab yield losses can
reach up to 40% in extreme cases, while test weights can run
20% lower than normal.
We’ve got some rotten apples, but
the straw is golden …
This weather hasn’t helped our apple crop. Wet, humid
weather increases both disease and insect pressures. This
year we are probably looking at around a 60% crop of grade-A
fruit. This is down from our expectations of about 75%.
This year we’re baling more straw than usual. Normally,
we return the straw from the oat harvest back to the soil.
I prefer not to remove the carbon from the system. This year,
however, there appears to be a strong straw market, and we’re
going to take advantage of it by baling up the oat straw.
Two years ago we also received more compost materials than
usual, so I have an abundance of compost. My plans are to
remove the straw and replace it with compost. I used to apply
all my compost in the rotation just prior to corn planting.
Now I apply it to oat stubble prior to planting wheat. (For
more on our composting operation, and our really cool homemade,
industrial grade compost turner, see the new article by Laura
Sayre in this edition of the web site, Making
and using compost at The Rodale Institute and the slideshow
Most years this system seems to work great since the fields
are firmer and can take the traffic of the manure spreader
better and I have less competition for my time from other
field operations. We are applying the compost at a rate of
about 12-15 tons per acre--just what the soil microbes want,
and nothing more.
It’s cover crop time again …
We have plans to plant several new cover crop trials for
the 2005 season. Of course, we need to plan them now so that
we’re ready for the late summer and fall plantings of
cover crop, coming up fast. This is an important time of the
year for organic grain farms. Without good cover crops nothing
will work out next year. It’s a hard time of the year
to plan – still lots of field work to look ahead to
for this season. But discipline tells us that without this
process, failure is a sure thing. So, it’s time to calculate
acreage, purchase seed, and prepare the soil for all those
This year we’re experimenting with more fall brassicas
like radish, mustard and rape. We’ll still plant hairy
vetch and vetch in combinations with grains like rye and oats.
But, I’m really looking at cover crop combinations that
will help my weed management in the organic no-till systems
I’ve discussed in other articles.
The other good point to August is “it's vacation time.”
I always like to spend the first week of August away from
the farm and with my family. This year is no different. The
first week of August I’m out of here as they say. So,
until I’m back I hope you’re all experiencing
the great year we here at The Rodale Institute Farm are having.
Enjoy a safe and relaxing August.
From one farm to another,
are our infection rates low compared to other
farmers in the region this year?
This year at The Rodale Institute® farm our
vomitoxin test results were very low. In fact,
they were the lowest of any wheat the lab had
tested this year, in samples from throughout Ohio
and Pennsylvania. Whereas 2 ppm is the cut-off
buyers will accept, ours was 0.6 ppm. Why did
we have a low reading in a year in which others
are having significant problems? Since wheat varieties
in use are all considered uniformly susceptible,
we believe the answer could lie elsewhere. After
30 years of organic farming, we believe our healthy
soils help us combat these types of diseases.
Our long-term management practices—including
diverse rotations, the use of composts, cover
cropping, and conservation tillage—may have
something to do with this low expression of pathogenic
toxins. In The Rodale Institute Farming Systems
Trial® we have increased soil carbon by about
30 percent in 24 years, making a range of nutrients
and water more available. Only further research
and investigation will tell the final answer.
But many farmers who have transitioned to organic
farming comment on the reduction of pest and disease
problems as their soils improve.
What should you do about vomitoxin? Grain can
be analyzed for toxin levels and farmers can avoid
suffering animal losses from feeding high-toxin
grain. Furthermore, early harvesting of grain
can reduce the effects of diseases like scab,
which increase with delayed harvest.
While we were unable to find any practical, web-based
resources on vomitoxin written specifically for
organic farmers, the University of Minnesota Small
Grains Field Guide did offer the following advice:
“Reduce scab with crop rotation,
allowing at least a one year break between crops
of corn or Fusarium-damaged small grains. The
severest scab often occurs in wheat that has
been planted on the residue of last year’s
corn. Tillage to bury crop residues also helps
to reduce scab potential. Severely scabbed grain
should not be used for planting seed.”
Another interesting note: Researchers working
with the Canadian government found that fusarium
head blight is more prevalent in some commercial
wheat crops where Roundup is used.
All farmers should get to know more about this
problem, be aware of its presence and severity,
and--in scab-favorable years--test their small
grains to avoid experiencing unnecessary losses
The Rodale Institute