I Googled “no till organic” and got the 2002
New Farm article on the roller. Can you tell me more?
I went organic and no till in the late ’80s. Went back
to tillage; now I am going back to no till. I own and rent
out seven Haybuster drills.
I understand there is a organic no-till project at Washington
Twin Falls, Idaho
Thanks for the email. We love to talk about biologically
based no-till systems. We have been working on cover crop
based no-till systems for many years and have had some great
success stories along with some failures.
The system we are currently working with involves the use
of winter-annual cover crops that are rolled and crimped at
the appropriate time to kill them where they form a dead mulch
to prevent the germination of weeds in an annual cropping
system. We have done this successfully with corn, soybeans
and pumpkins using the front-mounted roller you saw in the
article. Since that time we have been working on planter modifications
to improve the crop stand. We are happy with the way the roller
works and in the cover crops’ ability to prevent weed
We are also working on adjusting our crop rotations to take
advantage of this new no-till system. Our goal is to be able
to use no-till to establish three crops out of a 5-year rotation.
If you go to the no-till
plus page of the New Farm website, you'll find more information
from our work here at The Rodale Institute as well as that
of other farmers. We are currently working on setting up research
projects in eight states across the country where rollers
are now in place to roll the cover crops that were established
I haven’t gotten to the forum, but I wonder how it
could actually kill anything (and weight per foot which could
then translate to cost to build). Are plans available? This
looks like the Dixon Imprinter used to kill brush in rangeland
and create mini reservoirs in places like Arizona.
I met one of the New Farm editors in Washington, DC, last
year at the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
annual meeting. I am on the campaign as a director representing
the Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (www.westernsawg.org),
which I chair. Our annual meeting is next Monday in Grand
Junction, Colorado, in conjunction with the Southwest Marketing
Association (organic, sustainable small farm types) with about
600 attending. Jim Dyer’s the ramrod. I also find myself
recently invited to be on the Western SARE administrative
council and have had a session reviewing grants (the ones
submitted by universities and NGOs).
There is a lot of reinventing the wheel. They best begin
surveying farmers to find if the practice is working! A university
dry bean breeder has used our farm for four years for his
trial grounds. He is now able to evaluate beans which have
a tolerance for weeds!
Your outfit has always been straightforward. I have a big
box of early ’70s and another of early ’80s Organic
Gardening magazine. Is all that research and pamphlets referred
to still around?
You have asked a lot of questions here. I'll answer what
I can and have copied your email to several colleagues.
How does the roller kill anything? It only works on cover
crops that are winter annuals or crops that, during their
normal life cycle, would die back on their own. For example
hairy vetch--it is planted in early fall, grows through the
winter, comes on strong through the spring, forms seed pods
and dies in the summer. What we do is interrupt this life
cycle in late spring when the plant is in full bloom by rolling
it down. Physiologically the plant has reproduced even though
no seeds were formed. The plant then forms a mulch to prevent
weeds from germinating. Hairy vetch also happens to be a legume
so all the nitrogen needed to grow a crop of corn can be produced
in a single season. This same thing will work on small grains
like rye or wheat. They can be rolled down when in bloom,
and they will not come back.
This system will not work on perennial crops like hay or
weed infestations that already exist. The roller weighs about
12 pounds per foot empty and with water can go to about 20
pounds per foot.
I'm pleased to hear that you hold our past work in high regard.
The Rodale Institute has always strived to be a solution-based
organization, feeling that pointing out problems is only useful
when it can direct you to solutions. While it may seem like
reinventing the wheel, what we are often doing is going back
to grab what was good in the past and bringing it forward,
modernizing it, and putting it to work to the benefit of the
I wish you the best of luck in your work with SARE and at
your meeting of the Southwest Marketing Association.