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

Strip tillage of corn on fall plowed land?

Posted December 9, 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 am following your progress on organic no-till here in Ontario but don't think that I'm ready to go that far yet. Here conventional no tillers have more problems with slug damage and root insect problems because of the increased biomass on top of the soil. I think that this could be worse in an organic situation. Your thoughts?

My question concerns strip tillage of corn on fall plowed (and leveled) land. Conventional growers are having good luck here with strip tillage, but they do it on baled wheat ground with no clover and have to spray more herbicides to kill tough perennial weeds.

I plowed my clover and leveled it with a disc and cultivator this fall and intend to follow up in the spring with a modified scuffler (with wavy coulters, markers and shorter knives). This scuffler/strip tiller would prepare weed-free strips and seed beds for the corn planter (fitted with no-till coulters also). My goals are to reduce tillage in the spring, and most of all, reduce soil compaction on the heavier soils, especially in a wet spring (since I can use a smaller tractor and I'm not running over the seed bed with the tractor tires). Then, after the corn is up, I could scuffle in between the strips. Those weedy strips have then also provided wind and water erosion protection in the meantime.

Have you had any experience with this type of system in the past, and will it work?

Sincerely,
Rock Geluk
Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada


Dear Rock,

My experience here in Pennsylvania has been that we have fewer slug problems because we rotate our tillage. By that I mean we are not in a continuous no-till system but have complete no-till in some years and plow till in others. This, along with a diverse crop and cover crop rotation, seems to discourage the buildup of their populations. That's not to say we don't have some problems or that we don't have other issues to deal with…like increased bird damage (not sure why).

As far as your strip till ideas go, I have no experience with a scuffler at all. But, here is what I think is most likely to happen; after all, weeds are weeds in any system and what we are really talking about is modifications on a theme:

If your strip-tilled areas (the seed zone for your crop) is clean when you plant and can be kept relatively weed-free until the crop is up and growing, the system should work. As far as the weedy areas in between the rows go, if you can remove them or knock them down before they can compete with your crop for water, nutrients or sunlight, they should be no problem. I like the idea of strip tillage and maintaining crop zones and wheel-traffic zones; it makes a lot of sense. I would encourage you to think ahead to the next phase where you might consider replacing the "weed zone" between the strip tilled "crop zone" with a cover crop; some sort of clover or legume that would benefit the system in some way more than just leaving the weeds there to protect the soil (although they will do that).

I do have concerns over a long-term rotation—where the strip tillage is the only weed removal process—about how you will cultivate next to the row. You may, over time, increase your weed pressure.

Please keep me posted if you try it out. The more we all stretch our creativity and share our results, the more we'll all improve our operations.

Jeff

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