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 this topic. 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
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 country.
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 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 their area.
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,