I attended the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance [MOFFA]
conference January 8 and found it informative and encouraging.
I am a certified organic vegetable grower on the eastern shore
of Lake Michigan. I would like to add soybeans and grain to
my rotation schedule and to do it no-till. What is the best
preparation for a no-till crop, and when is the best time
to plant? I have two fields that were cover cropped last year,
disked in early summer and then left. They have grass and
some weeds in them now. I was going to try burning them to
reduce weed pressure.
Do you use compost on all your fields? I want to reduce use
of chicken manure. I currently use some crab-shell waste mixed
with chicken manure.
Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.
Thanks for the email and the questions on organic no-till.
When considering organic no-till, the first thing to keep
in mind is that we are talking about a cover crop manipulation
system. The reason I point this out is that a heavy, dense
cover is critical to the success of the system, since this
is the main method of managing the weeds. Without this biomass,
the system falls apart. Therefore we need to plan at least
a year in advance before we can consider no-tilling organically.
The first step is to consider what the cash crop will be,
in your case soybeans. Then pair that crop up to a suitable
cover crop. For soybeans I like to use rye; for corn I prefer
hairy vetch. Then do whatever is necessary to establish the
cover crop at the optimum time of the year. For us to establish
rye, we plant it in mid to late October. Then, when it is
time to plant the soybeans, you will need to time the planting
date to coincide with the maturation of the cover crop so
you can kill it without the use of herbicides. For rye, that
means the grain should be headed out.
Fields that had cover crops last year and now have some weeds
will not be suitable for no-tilling this year since any of
those weeds that are there now will continue to grow, and
any weeds that germinate in the spring will not have enough
biomass to prevent them from taking over.
While this all sounds very complex, it isn’t. In conventional
agriculture as we reduce tillage we typically increase herbicide
use. Something has to be there to manage the weeds. In organic
no-till as we reduce tillage we increase cover crops to help
us manage the weeds.
Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail
him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.