March 17, 2005: Many of you have written
to me over the past several months and asked me to keep you
posted on the work we are doing related to organic no-till.
If you were reading The New Farm back in October of 2004 you
already know that the Institute received a grant from the
NRCS, under their Conservation Innovation Grant Program, to
further explore our cover crop roller system by conducting
on-farm research across the country.
We have pulled together a dynamic group of folks to help
us with this work, many of whom were on-hand for this meeting.
Here is a list of the people involved: from Virginia we have
Dr. Ron Morse and Paul Davis; from Georgia we have Dr. Sharad
Phatak, Rick Reed, Mike Nugent and Mark Vickers; from Iowa
we have Dr. Kathleen Delate; from Michigan we have Dr. Dale
Mutch, Pat Sheridan and Jim Kratz; from Mississippi we have
Dr. Seth Dabney and Perrin Grissom; from North Dakota we have
Dr. Steve Zwinger; from Pennsylvania we have Dave Wilson,
Steve Groff, Kyle Henninger, and Kirby Reichert; and from
California we Dr. Jeff Mitchell and Patrick O’Neil.
We also have a great list of advisors for the project, including
Dr. Andy McGuire from WSU in Washington, Dr. John Teasdale
of USDA-ARS in Maryland, Dr. Bill Curran from PSU in Pennsylvania,
and Dr. Wayne Reeves and Dr. Harry Shomberg of USDA-ARS in
Georgia. There will be others that I know will join this illustrious
group as the project begins to unfold, but I thought you might
want to know who is currently involved.
Each of these folks brings to the project an interest in
using cover crops as a management tool in no-till systems.
Some of the farmers are conventional in that they currently
use herbicides to control weeds. Some are certified organic.
But they all see the value in not performing annual tillage
to establish crops and in using cover crops to regenerate
the soil. Through this diversified management scenario we
hope to gain valuable information on how we can move this
technology forward and out onto your farm. The concept of
eliminating tillage within our rotations and still getting
our main crops established and managing weeds at the same
time is certainly the way of the future.
The meeting started in the middle of a heavy snowstorm (I
realize the word heavy is relative but keep in mind where
we’re at on the map). Even so, folks showed up on time
from across the country and ready to go to work. We had to
rush around and find some alternative meeting spaces since
the roads to The Institute weren’t plowed in time for
an early morning start. That wasn’t going to stop this
group. We grabbed a room at the hotel where everyone was staying
and dug right in. Each of us gave a brief introduction and
description of our work. We talked about the cover crop roller
we designed and built here at the Institute and how we hope
this project will transform the concepts of no-till in relation
to using cover crops.
Within this project we’ll be growing cotton, peanuts,
corn, soybeans, direct-seeded vegetables, transplanted vegetables
and who knows what else. And we’ll be planting them
into many different cover crops based in different parts of
The first step for us was to design a data collection system
that will allow us to track the use of the cover crops and
the roller/crimper. We know how the system works here at our
farm, but we need to see if other managers can have the same
success that we have had. We’ll be tracking and documenting
information on the cover crops and their performance, the
main crops and their response to the system, the weeds and
the system's ability to keep them under control, and of course
the roller/crimper to determine it’s usefulness to the
The next steps will be to get AutoCAD drawings made of our
roller/crimper so we can build more, and then find an equipment
manufacturer to actually build the units. At the same time
we’ll be establishing our cover crops to plant into
next spring. The actual cover crop will be determined by the
individual participants, based on what's most suitable to
I hope you’ll follow along as we learn more about how
to use cover crops to reduce tillage and manage weeds. If
you haven’t seen the roller I’m talking about
we have a nice slide show here on New Farm you can look at.
If you have ideas or comments on systems you’ve tried,
let me know and I’ll pass the information on to the
rest of the group. It may just be the key one of us needs
to make the system work for a particular crop.
Well, we’re off and running with this one. I’ll
be keeping you all up to date as the project moves forward.
Organic No-Till ----- These are exciting times!
From one farm to another,