ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Organic no-till project receives overwhelming response
Jeff’s invitation to farmers to assess effectiveness of innovative cover crop roller in various regions receives overwhelming response.

Posted October 26, 2004

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our NewFarm.org readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Send it to Jeff at:
jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org

1. Sustainable ag in Iowa

2. Sweet corn, melons, squash and soup beans in Kansas

3. Farmer/engineer in Ohio

4. Sandy loam and 16" annual rainfall in South Dakota

5. 25 acres of field crops in Greece

6. Already rolling in Tennessee

7. Trying to replace mouldboard plowing in New York


Sustainable Ag in Iowa

Dear Jeff,
We are brothers who own farmland in north central Iowa (Humboldt County) that we rent out. We are interested in exploring participation in the Organic No Till system project.

Allen Jensen
Vienna, Virginia

Lawrence Jensen
New Hampton, Iowa

 

Dear Allen and Lawrence,
Thanks for your response to our article requesting farmer cooperators for our organic no-till project. We are in the early stages of pulling the working arrangements together. For right now we are collecting potential on-farm sites and will be getting back to folks over the next few months. This will be a three-year project starting this October (2004). Once we get further along in the project, we’ll be in touch.

This project will involve approximately 10 farms in at least seven regions of the country. We’ll be working with regionally based coordinators, who will work directly with the farms to collect the data. Thanks again for your show of interest and support in our work.

Jeff Moyer

 

Dear Jeff,
Many thanks for your response. We learned about your project through the Practical Farmers of Iowa organization. My brother Lawrence and I are both ag graduates from Iowa State, but we went into other professions later. We are very interested in someway contributing to the efforts that you and others are making to the broad goal of “sustainable agriculture.” We appreciate the work you are doing and look forward to hearing from you or one of your coordinators at a later time.

Thanks,
Allen Jensen


Sweet corn, melons, squash and soup beans in Kansas

Dear Jeff,
I’d like to participate in your No-Till collaborative study. Contact me please. I am interested in growing sweet corn, melons, squash and soup beans in north central Kansas. I planted around 15 acres of wheat for knockdown this spring.

Dennis Kemnitz

 

Dear Dennis,

Thanks for your response to our article requesting farmer cooperators for our organic no-till project. We are in the early stages of pulling the working arrangements together. For right now we are collecting potential on-farm sites and will be getting back to folks over the next few months. This will be a three-year project starting this October (2004). Once we get further along in the project, we’ll be in touch.

This project will involve approximately 10 farms in at least seven regions of the country. We’ll be working with regionally based coordinators, who will work directly with the farms to collect the data. Thanks again for your show of interest and support in our work.

Jeff Moyer

 

Hello Jeff,

An organic farmer neighbor of mine may be interested in a hundred acres or so of row crops. Before I saw your crimper roller in last month’s New Farm article, I was planning to sickle mow the wheat next spring prior to hand transplanting. This is the most exciting innovation I've seen for organic farming since I started reading Organic Gardening and Farming magazine around 40 years ago. I've tried a lot of things from OGF magazines mostly relative to backyard gardening cause I didn’t have farm ground and machinery then. Compost tea seems mighty interesting, but I'm not real sure about it yet. The soil food web should thrive using the crimper roller and perhaps only a shallow disking and aerated compost tea application prior to planting wheat.

Best regards,
Dennis Kemnitz
food technologist advocating organic farming and processing

 

Dear Dennis,

Thanks for the kind words and for keeping the ball rolling forward. We'll be back in touch soon.

Jeff

 

Hello Jeff,

I reviewed your slide presentation again regarding the building of the crimper roller. How and what machine “twists” the 4” roller blades so they fit the curve of the roller? You must use a cold roller of some kind. No rush on the answer, however I am
looking into getting some blades fitted to a 16” pipe (although I haven’t located one yet). I have some blades from an old V-blade used in this country years ago, which might “twist” (and they might not either). I have some heavy 3-point tool bars from some old 4-, 6- and 8-row cultivators that could hold the roller.

Thanks a lot,
Dennis Kemnitz

 

Dear Dennis,

I'll try and explain the process we used, although it is hard to do it service in words. We made each blade in two pieces, brought them together in the middle and welded them together. We put each blade section in a large press and curved them like a banana so that the 4-inch dimension is the curved part. It took a large press to do this. Then we placed the blade section against the cylinder to which short sections of angle iron had already been welded on a spiral pattern. We bolted the outside end to the angle iron bracket. At this point, the other end is sort of hanging out in the air. We simply (or not so simply) put a large pipe wrench on the end of the blade, hanging free, and using human muscle pulled it down against the cylinder. We clamped it in place, marked the holes against the angle iron mounting brackets, took it off, drilled the holes where we had marked them, and re-installed the blade by pulling it back into place and putting the bolts in. We repeated this procedure for each half blade; then welded the centers together putting in a filler piece, if needed, where they meet in the center.

Hope this helps,
Jeff


Farmer/engineer in Ohio

Dear Jeff,

I see that there is a grant program under way with the rye roller technology. Have you selected the collaborative farmers for the research yet? I may be interested.

Joe Woods

 

Dear Joe,

We are getting tons of requests for information, so for now we are sending out the little blurb below. I'm glad to hear you may be interested in the project. I'll keep you posted.

Thanks for your response to our article requesting farmer cooperators for our organic no-till project. We are in the early stages of pulling the working arrangements together. For right now we are collecting potential on-farm sites and will be getting back to folks over the next few months. This will be a three-year project starting this October (2004). Once we get further along in the project, we’ll be in touch.

This project will involve approximately 10 farms in at least seven regions of the country. We’ll be working with regionally based coordinators, who will work directly with the farms to collect the data. Thanks again for your show of interest and support in our work.

Jeff Moyer

 

Jeff,

I can imagine that the response has been fairly substantial, with a lot of interested people. I plan on working with a roller regardless, but would be happy to try to work with you on the project. I'll throw this out in order to make my bid:

I spent 4 years in my company’s research and development laboratory conducting industrial testing. For an additional four years, I was in an engineering capacity and wrote numerous test reports, both internal and external. I would believe these skills would be useful in reporting field data and analysis of results.

I believe that I would be able to include some additional acres in addition to my own in order to conduct this trial. My father (a retired vocational agriculture teacher) is another resource that you may tap into.

Thanks,
Joe Woods


Sandy loam and 16" annual rainfall in South Dakota

Memo to Jeff Moyer:

We farm in north central South Dakota in a 16” annual rainfall area, with portions of my farm acreage under pivot irrigation. My farmland is sandy loam, without any rocks and is certified by OCIA. This quarter is planted to winter wheat now; we want to plant back to alfalfa as soon as the wheat is combined with a stripper header. Often the stubble is considerable with heavy seeding rates and some irrigation, however the land is often very dry at harvest time and tillage time.

Our mentor in organic farming has a large small grain acreage, with some of the fields having small rocks. Both the young farmer and his mother are dedicated to organic farming with grain storage space and a large on-farm scale used by many of the local farmers.

We would be ideal candidates to evaluate and report the working of one of the large roller/crimper implements. Please advise us of the application process and whether a draft of an evaluation format is already available for review.

Verne Thorstenson
Rocking Diamond Organics


25 acres of filed crops in Greece

Dear Jeff,

I read with great interest your articles on organic no-till research in the New Farm newsletter. I am an agroecology researcher and lecturer, and I am interested in investigating the feasibility of no-till organic management of field crops here in Northern Greece. I have a 25-acre farm where my family used to grow field crops such as alfalfa, corn, vetch and cotton. I have converted that farm to organic this year when I started managing it and I would like to use it as an demonstration/experimental farm where I can educate local farmers on organic practices. Even though there are government subsidies to farm organically, there is no technical support or Extension from the universities, and most farmers tend to use input substitution instead of using cultural practices to manage their fields organically.

I had worked with Professor Altieri at U.C. Berkeley for the past 8 years on ecological farming applications in California. From the literature, I could not find many no-till case studies in California, but I think the potential should be great even in Mediterranean climates such as California and Greece. I wanted to ask you if you are aware of any such work and if you have any references. Also, I wanted to find out if you have published the technical characteristics of your crop rollers so that we can try to experiment with them.

Thanks for your great work in promoting organic practices,
Christos

 

Dear Christos,

Thank you for the kind remarks on my work and the work of The Rodale Institute and New Farm. We have not yet published the technical drawings for our roller/crimper, but with our new grant we will be. As soon as they are completed, we will make them available. It is our goal to have as many people as possible working on organic no-till, with as many different crops as possible.

I don’t see why the system would not work in a Mediterranean climate. The trick will be to match the cover crop and its timing to the cash crop. Once that match is made the rest is relatively easy, since the system is based on basic biological principles that work anywhere. If you send me a mailing address, I will send you a CD of photos of my work from the past two years. I will follow that up with data later on in the year.

Thank you for your interest in our work.
Jeff Moyer

 

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for your quick reply! I am looking forward to reading about the progress of your project in the New Farm newsletter and about the technical drawings for the roller as soon as you publish them on your web site.

Thanks again,
Christos


Already rolling in Tennessee

Dear Jeff,

It was great to hear of the grant that Rodale has received for the no-till experiments in organic production. We talked by phone at length earlier this year, and in fact we did some small test plots with corn and soybeans. Based on our findings, we are interested in looking into the possibility of participation in your three-year study and would appreciate having more information.

We made a small roller—23” diameter by 5 ½ feet long—and welded 3/8” by 4” flat bars every 8 inches. These bars were welded straight across the roller (not in a herringbone pattern as you had used), and the roller was pulled with a tractor two times over a very dense stand of hairy vetch on May 14 and again on May 20, immediately before planting corn with a 6 row John Deere Maximerge Planter.

This planting date was 30 to 40 days later than our normal dates, and we really did not think the stand would amount to much. Fortunately we had 8/10 inch rain on May 27 and were able to flame the rows while the dead vetch was wet as many small weed were emerging in the rows. This was followed by two cultivations with a Hiniker cultivator with 25 inch sweeps and a guidance system. This test plot was .49 acre and yielded 139 bu of yellow corn/acre. Perhaps a cover crop of Austrian winter peas could be planted a bit earlier but probably would not provide as much nitrogen as the hairy vetch.

We also had a side-by-side plot on spaded ground which was planted the same day. The yield was 79 bu/acre. We can only surmise the no-till plot was able to retain moisture, as everything else was the same. We have also tried our roller on a wheat cover crop before planting soybeans, but it had little effect on the small weeds in the wheat and we ended up spading that ground before planting the soybeans. Probably a 15-foot roller would be better for us as we plant with six 30-inch rows. If the roller could be made in two or three sections, it could compensate for uneven ground. Otherwise, the bars or blades would have to be wider and with more weight so they would work more aggressively.

Let us know what you think.

Yours truly,
Alfred Farris
Windy Acres Farm
Orlinda, TN


Trying to replace moulboard plowing in New York

Dear Jeff,

I am writing to you to request that we please be considered for your organic No-till Plus collaborative field testing. I have been fascinated by the work that you have done on this and, if we could get it to work on our farm, would be excited to see the benefits of it mount over time! We are doing a huge amount of moldboard plowing and would really like to replace some of these passes with something that builds rather than damages the soil.

We are just finishing our sixth year of organic farming and have almost completed transitioning our entire 3,000-acre crop operation to organic (we chased the “bigger is better” concept up to 3,000 acres conventionally, in case you are wondering). Our main crops are corn, soybeans, spelt, sweet corn, peas, green beans, edamame soybeans, and barley (very similar to Klaas and Mary-Howell’s farm [see Letter from NY for more on Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens]; in fact, their help was critical to our transition). Our soils vary widely, although we have a disproportionate percentage of poorly-drained acreage (which would benefit from the drying effects of the cover crop). With some guidance from you and evaluation of risks, we would be capable of experimenting on larger acreage and more variety of soils than many farms. Last week, for instance, we had 300 acres of spelt flown on to standing soybeans after discussing the pros and cons with Klaas.

If you already have the collaborators selected, I respectfully request that you please make sure that one of them is from New York and is an active member of New York Certified Organic (NYCO), which is the group that Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens formed to coordinate the cluster of organic farms in their area. In fact, Klaas and Mary-Howell, if they were interested, would make excellent collaborators on this experiment, and there would be no need to duplicate the effort on our farm (unless you were looking for an additional location in our area).

Please let me know your initial thoughts regarding this.

Brett Kreher
Kreher's Poultry Farms
Clarence, New York

Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him directly at jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org.