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

No-till roller questions from project collaborator

Posted June 8, 2006

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 readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Editor’s note: What follows is an e-mail exchange between Jeff and Iowa farmer Ron Rosmann, one of our No Till Plus collaborators.

Q: Since we have been having trouble connecting by phone, I thought I would try e-mail. In looking at the website, maybe I am getting my big question answered. Is the roller supposed to only knock over and crimp the cover crop stems, or is it supposed to actually pull or lift the cover crop somewhat out of the ground and lay it over?

A: It is designed to push the cover crop over in one direction, lay it flat against the ground and crimp the stem every 7 inches along its length. It generally does not cut or pull the stems from the ground. This makes it easier to get the planter through the material, since it is still attached to the ground.

Q: I can understand how tall standing rye could be killed by knocking it over when it is headed out and quite tall. I don't understand how it would do the same in hairy vetch, for instance?

A: You'll need to wait till the vetch is in full bloom. At that point, the vetch has physiologically matured and is relatively easy to kill. The roller just flattens it out and crimps the stem, just like the rye only not as orderly since the vetch is so viney. We always make sure the roller is filled with water for this operation.

Q: Wouldn't the roller just knock over and tangle up in the hairy vetch?

A: The vetch should not tangle around the roller with this design. As far as a tangled mess in the field—it is a vine crop and as such will be tangled up around itself. It still lays flat, dies, and dries out to look like a cardboard mat.

Q: If you do not kill the cover crop—like hairy vetch for instance—how can you expect to cultivate that much mass out?

A: You certainly want to kill the vetch or it will become a weed whenever you have wheat in the rotation. If the roller doesn't kill the vetch, you can re-roll it if the corn is not up or the growing tip is still in the ground. Often you can just drive on it with the tractor tires and kill it. Or, you can go through it with a high-residue cultivator. The first pass is easy. If you need to cultivate a second time, that can be more difficult.

Q: I know the pictures of the oats from your power point show it (hairy vetch) dead and dried up? Am I missing something big here? When we filled the roller with water and tried it just a little bit on some hard ground where rye was standing (only two feet tall), it did nothing to it. We have not gone to our trial field yet. We also tried it in some mammoth red clover and it did nothing. PUZZLED!

A: It certainly won't kill mammoth red clover since that is a bi-annual. We have seen this year where short rye isn't staying down like it should. We have rolled barley and wheat in the past and they were short and rolled nicely. I'll send you some photos of our vetch and other rolled crops so you can visually see what we did. Often it doesn't look great the day you roll it, but a week later you'll see it die down. I appreciate the communication and the fact that you are part of this team. I respect your opinion, so it's great to have you there testing this out.