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

What are the major challenges of a no-till roller system?

Posted August 10, 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 have followed your articles about rolling a cover crop and then planting directly into the rolled crop with much interest. I can see the benefits of this method, but I do have some questions. First, in your opinion, what are the major drawbacks to this system? Second, do you find that the soil in the fields utilizing this method are getting excessively compacted? If so, what will you use to combat this?

Joe Young
New Jersey

Dear Joe,

Thanks for following along on our no-till adventure. I'll try to briefly answer your questions only because as I write this I should be out in the field no-tilling some soybeans. There are several drawbacks or challenges to the system. First is matching the cover crop to the cash crop so that timing issues are avoided. For example, we no-till corn into legumes to take advantage of the free nitrogen. Typically we use hairy vetch as our legume of choice since it does well in our climate. However, many of the vetch varieties seem to flower later than I'd like often (like this year) delaying corn planting till early June.

As far as compaction goes, you need to understand that we only no-till for two years in a row, then we use a plow. So, in that sense we are not a true continuous no-till system. We mix no-till into a plow-till system to take advantage of both systems.

I hope that helps,