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

Can I roll down a cover on land that has had chemical burn-downs in the past?

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.

Dear Jeff,

I'm still conventional dairying but have always no-tilled all my corn (and alfalfa). This year we have the lushest barley/crimson clover mix as cover that I ever saw. Do you think I could get away with rolling down this cover on land that has had chemical burn-downs in the past? The barley has now headed out, a situation I never liked, but I hope that since the N the clover is fixing will be underground that the high carbon load sitting on top of the ground from the too-mature barley won't lock up the N like it does chemical N sources. If I'm unable to find a roller, would a jury-rigged drag of some sort do? Thanks for what you guys do. I haven't jumped into organic yet, but I see a lot of opportunity here pushing in that direction (even while we're still "conventional").

Alec Lipscomb

Dear Alec,

Thanks for the email and the kind words regarding our work. In answer to your question: Once the crimson clover has flowered and the barley has headed out as it seems like it has, you could go ahead and roll it down. You might be able to use some other method, such as a drag to lay it flat, however our roller design also crimps the stems of the cover crop to shut down the vascular system of the plant to get a better kill. Of course you have the option of coming back with an herbicide if the cover crop tries to grow back since you are farming conventionally.

Either way, you are to be applauded for inserting cover crops into your cropping system. You may not be organic at the moment, but it seems you're on the right path thinking about reducing your herbicide, covering the soil, and building organic matter levels.

Keep up the good work, and please me know what you decide to do and how it works out.