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
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
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
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
Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him
directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.