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:
I hope you and your staff are doing well. We have emailed each
other in the past regarding our "organic no-till" operations
(click here for
more), and I have appreciated your thoughtful insights. Our
2004 research plots were not as dynamic as in 2003, but we still
learned valuable lessons for the coming years. I am always eager
to read your monthly column to see how your No-till Plus research
is progressing as well. With our past experiences and devoted interest
in organic no-till, we are requesting that you please consider us
for your organic No-till Plus collaborative field testing funded
through the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant.
My parents, David and Rita Smith, farm 320 acres in Southeast Iowa,
which have been certified organic since the mid 1980s. Their crop
rotation consists of small grains, hay, corn, and soybeans, which
are partially used in supporting their rotationally grazed cattle,
chickens, and pigs. Southeast Iowa has a unique number of communities
where a large majority of the people are quite interested in sustainable
agriculture and support the local organic producers. In the past,
farm tours, field trials, farmers markets, CSAs, presentations,
conferences, etc. relating to sustainable agriculture have been
well attended. It is this type of energy which is needed to spawn
new thinking, not only in Iowa but throughout the entire U.S. In
my opinion, I believe we are an ideal site for the extension of
the No-till Plus grant. Thanks in advance for your consideration!
Dan and Sheila Smith
David and Rita Smith
Thanks for writing again. Sorry to hear that your plots in 2004
were not as good as 2003, but that seems to be the case when we
push the biology of the sytem hard and the weather doesn't cooperate.
We no-tilled corn, soybeans, rye, and pumpkins in 2004. I've been
playing with modifications on my planter this year, so some fields
look great and other not as good. The biggest problem I had was
plant populations in corn fields. I think I solved the problem by
adding weight to the roller and the planter and by removing the
Yetter residue managers I had on the front of the planter. We'll
see in 2005.
As far as the grant goes, we'll be working with area coordinators
across the country to actually set up the on-farm research plots.
In Iowa, it will be Dr. Kathleen Delate from Iowa State (click
here fore more on Kathleen Delate). We're in the process of
collecting potential farms to work on and the response has been
overwhelming. What we hope to do is select the farms that best fit
our criteria, then keep all the farms that have volunteered up to
speed or in the loop on our progress. That way we can magnify our
efforts and collect ideas from a larger group of practitioners.
We plan on collecting our criteria and selecting our cooperating
farms over the next two months. Your farm certainly will be under
consideration. If it's not selected, it won't be because it's not
of interest; it’s just that we only have enough dollars for
10 farms from across the whole country.
I always enjoy hearing from you about your projects. Are you still
planning on plowing your hay, or are you trying to manage it no-till?
I really don't have an issue with some plowing. I think that as
organic farmers we won't be able to get away from it completely.
But if we can reduce it plus all the cultivation on row crops, we
will be better off.
Thanks for the follow-up information! We would be happy to participate
in any way possible, as I think we are on the verge of a big improvement
for sustainable agriculture, rural economic restoration, and the
environment. With regard to managing the hay, we have not been able
to find an approach that does not involve tillage. We are currently
chisel plowing, disking, and field cultivating. However, I have
tossed the idea of using a rotovator, i.e. Howard, for swallow tillage
(2 - 3"). By opening the gates on the back of the rotovator,
this allows the green matter to fall lastly on top of the dirt and
create a modified cover. And ultimately, one tillage pass is better
than three or four...more equipment, horsepower, fuel consumption,
labor, soil organic matter oxidation, disruption of the macro- and
micro-organisms, etc. Plus, I agree with your comment regarding
tillage; if we only have to till the ground once every four to six
years (depending on the crop rotation), then we are definitely still
building sustainable, productive, and healthy soil.
Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him
directly at email@example.com.