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

Another no-till volunteer and an update on the selection process

Posted November 23, 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

Dear Jeff,

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!

Best regards,
Dan and Sheila Smith
David and Rita Smith


Dear Dan,

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.

Jeff


Dear Jeff,

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.

Best regards,
Dan

 

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